High Points| from El Camino Real
Folks along El Camino Real were blessed this week even though many didn’t realize it. I’ve been writing this column in The Cherokeean Herald for over 22 years about life on the King’s Highway and this week I finally got to see the King. It is only fitting that He chose Holy Week to come down our old road. Maybe He came to see the Indians dance at their sacred mounds by the old Spanish Mission that first brought Christianity to Texas. Maybe He came to remind us that He is still in control of our lives.
On Saturday, April 13, 2019 around noon the skies turned dark as a tornado came down our old road and took out the west side of Alto. After the tornado passed, folks grabbed chainsaws, jumped on tractors, and went out to clear roads so they could check on their friends and neighbors. The King had arrived but I don’t think anybody recognized Him then. In less than an hour the skies began to rumble again and another tornado came down our old road cutting a 1000 yard swath through the big timber, laying it down like palm fronds to honor a King. It came across the Indian Mounds turning the sky black as approximately 50 visitors ran into the museum to seek shelter. Three people that weren’t able to reach the museum ran into the grass hut to seek shelter. The grass hut was swept away and cars were tossed like empty soda cans with some being tossed across El Camino Real and into the trees. It proceeded across the Weeping Mary Road destroying the homes of my friend Margo, the Skinners, along with all the rest of the buildings in its path, and flipping an eighteen wheeler. It kept on going across the Mound Prairie taking off roofs, tearing down fences, hitting the Dominy Dairy, and the Thomas Chapel Methodist Church, as it continued down our old road. Jay Anna and I were huddled in the closet and prayed as it roared past just a little on the other side of El Camino Real. When the deafening noise finally stopped we came out to see what we had left, but somehow the house didn’t matter as much. The King showed up again as people climbed out of the rubble of the museum and their houses, and I think it was then that everyone realized He was here. A third tornado was already on its way across the river from Houston County, it left some of our friends homeless. And then played out just after it crossed the end of the Cold Springs Road.
The power was off and we couldn’t find out what was happening. People were scrambling to get anything they could to cut a path through the trees to help the hurting and help in any way they could. Word spread quickly about what had happened and somebody must have told them they saw the King because they brought all the love they could muster into our community with them.
Helicopters filled the skies as they rushed to fly the critically injured from the Indian Mounds, while chainsaws screamed through the big trees to get to the others. When a path was finally cut ambulances and school buses went by my house to load the rest of the injured and a procession of cattle trailers and cattlemen went down El Camino Real to help the Dominy’s gather their dairy cows.
People searched through what was left of homes and businesses searching for anyone they could find. Some people came out so shaken and hollow eyed they weren’t able to see Him even when He was standing in their yard. In town all the parking lots at the churches began to fill with people from here and all over who heard the news and came to show Him that we could get it right and love our neighbors. The Preachers started trying to gather their flocks out of the chaos, and put them to work helping the hurting. There were all kinds of preachers of all denominations working shoulder to shoulder doing the work of the King.
As more people were rescued and more people came to help, stories began to be told of how our people made it through the storm.
I saw my friend Bonnie Magruder sitting on her porch in front of what was left of her house on the corner of Putnam Street and I stopped to give her a hug. She told me that she was going to the funeral home to wait on flowers on Saturday morning just before noon. It had quit raining for a minute and she knew that the end of her crutch was slippery when it got wet, so she headed down El Camino Real a little earlier than she needed to. When she arrived at the funeral home, the lights went out and the home she had lived in for over 60 years was gone. Bonnie is safe. It makes me kind of proud that the King went right down the street my grandmother lived on, and where I made so many good memories as a child.
Thirty years ago a storm came through Kim and Mindy Scott’s farm and dropped nineteen pine trees through the roof of their little yellow house. They had sheltered next door in a brown house Kim’s Daddy, Bill Scott built beside it. The huge pines fell across the little yellow house until it was unrecognizable and had to be torn down. Kim was alone when the second tornado came through this Saturday. He ran inside the brown house again and grabbed a tight hold on the iron circular staircase that we had all complained about for years and held on. The storm took the roof, the windows, and even pulled the carpet up off the floor, but my friend held on. The place we enjoyed so many wonderful memories with our families was gone, but my friend was still there. Even though there was no roof or walls left on the upstairs, the bed was still perfectly made with the pillows on it. You need to have your bed made when you get a visit from the King.
Rickey Moore was in his house in the Smith Quarter when the storm picked up his house and threw it onto Greg Bolton’s house. He came out of what was left of his house shouting and thanking the King for his mercy. I remember when Ricky was a young boy riding a horse all over town. Ricky was shouting as he looked back at the pile of debris that was his house and said, “I rode that out!” When the King is watching the rodeo there is nothing we can’t ride.
The roof came off our High School and both our Gymnasiums were destroyed. There is no press box at the baseball field now and the fences are all twisted up. The Baptist Men are going to set up a tent and bring equipment to feed 700 kids so our children will be able to finish the school year in what we have left. I’m glad the King decided to come on Saturday when all our children were safe at home.
I drove out to the Thomas Chapel AME Church and looked up the hill across their cemetery. It was filled with people of all colors and creeds cutting and stacking the giant cedar trees that once shaded the graves. I thought it was a wonderful thing that the King took time on his journey down the King’s Highway to stop at a little country cemetery to spread his love.
Trucks and trailers from all over kept coming in to town bringing food, water and other supplies to take care of His people. It was like the story of the loaves and fishes. No matter how much they brought or how much was taken, the supplies that were given in love never ran low. At some point we wanted to shout “no more”, but you can’t just stop something the King started.
A sweet lady called us, whose mother was killed when the tornado struck the Indian Mounds. She wanted us to go and see if we could find the wedding ring that had been on her hand. We searched through the twisted wreckage of what had been the couples van, but we couldn’t find the ring. The ground was littered with colorful Indian blankets and coats, mixed with supplies thrown down by the medical workers who tried to help. We didn’t find the ring, and my heart hurt for the young woman’s loss. I know that ring symbolized her parents love for each other and I hope she finds out that Love was standing there watching us search. I don’t know why He makes the choices he does, but I know He was there because when my friends John and Madeline Ross and another man were blown away in the grass hut in the second tornado. Their ride wasn’t a smooth one, but He protected them and left them with us for a little while longer.
The power companies poured into our little town in huge caravans and went to work. I have never seen them work so hard or so fast to get the electricity back on. We didn’t seem as worried about the lights as we usually are. I guess it was because we knew The Light was already there.
The people came from all over to help us clean up our little town and by Friday afternoon the town looked like a fire ant bed with workers going in every direction cleaning up trees, tarping houses, and all the other jobs they could do to help.
Someone from another town said that every face they saw on the news had a smile when they were interviewed by the news media, no matter how bad things were for them. I wish they could have seen the face of the King about then because I think he was smiling too.
It’s been a long Holy Week! I got my old lawnmower cranked late Friday afternoon and started mowing my grass for Easter, as I went across my front yard along the King’s Highway, I ran over a piece of Styrofoam insulation from someone’s home, as it chopped up and flew out the side of the mower, the tears started running down my face and I couldn’t stop them. It was at that moment I realized what a blessing I had received. We experienced an outpouring of love from friends and complete strangers that we will remember always. I know the King invited them to come and we’re sure glad he did. When this is all over I hope the King decides to stay in our town for a while longer. It sure is nice having Him around. Happy Easter!
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