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Dead Bodies, A Tornado, and a Book Release

I had a feeling my book release party for “The Whitehall Affair” would be spicy. Granted, I thought it would be because of the weather. While that was mostly true, I ended up learning some very interesting history about my house. 

As per usual for springtime in Oklahoma, you get a 50-50 chance on any given day that there will be storms. And where there are storms, there’s a good chance for ‘naders (tornados). All week, storms had been forecasted for the Saturday I planned my party. They were also expected to be pretty bad for certain parts of the state, though it hadn’t looked that way for our area. The last two storms they had also predicted to be really bad, but they ended up not. I thought about canceling for half a second before my friends assured me it would be fine. Most people lived nearby, and if it looked like it was going to get bad, there was plenty of time for them to get home. Or they would just hunker down at my place until it passed.

For the record, a tornado hasn’t hit my town in over a hundred years. Most of the time, the really bad storms end up going just north or south of us. The big EF5 that took out Moore in 1999 went right down I-44, skipped us, and took out an outlet mall in a town about 20 minutes down the highway. Sure, we’ve had the usual storm damage and there have been small twisters that touched down outside of us, but within city limits, no tornados. Folks like to say it’s because of a Native American blessing after a tornado wiped out the town in the late 1800s. It more likely has to do with the geography of the area, making it less likely that we’ll take a direct hit. While this doesn’t completely eliminate the chance of a tornado ever hitting, it does help with my anxiety. 

So, the party proceeded even though some people canceled because they were worried about being out in the weather. We got pretty lucky. The storm was forecast to hit around 7 p.m. (my party started at 6 p.m.) but ended up getting pushed back throughout the night until about 10:30 p.m. It barely rained. We had strong wind all day, but it never got worse than what it had been during that time.

I had a good mix of people. My best friends showed up, as expected, but I had two ladies that I did plays with come, and they fit in really well with my very extra group. One of them brought her boyfriend. When he first walked in, he exclaimed that he knew my house looked familiar. Turns out his ex-wife’s relative used to own and live in it. My landlords bought it from them. I gave them a tour, and when we got to the bathroom, he commented that it was a lot bigger than he remembered.

It turns out my landlords did some major renovations—a lot more than I originally thought. That weird attic we couldn’t figure out how to get into for the longest time was originally an upstairs bedroom. Part of the bathroom used to be a set of stairs that went up to the room. 

We finished the tour and folks got to talking and drinking. We went outside for a little bit to let the puppies run around and potty before the storm hit, and they were stuck inside for the night. When I came back in, my friend pulled me aside and said that her boyfriend just shared some more interesting information about the house. He was hesitant to share it with me since it wasn’t the greatest, but she encouraged him to since we were a group that probably wouldn’t care. 

What was it? Well. Someone died in my house. 

When he shared that, my two best friends looked at me and shouted, “I KNEW IT!” 

To be fair, my house, like many of the houses in my neighborhood, is about 100 years old, give or take. My friend said, based on the old wiring we saw up in the attic while decorating for Halloween, it was likely built in the 1920s or 30s. This area was pretty much the first neighborhood to exist in my town. While the homes closer to the courthouse are older (by a good 20-40 years) and fancier, the houses around mine are still pretty old. I would be surprised if there were a house in this area that didn’t have a dead body attached to it. 

Anywho, the story goes that the man who lived here had a heart condition that he took medication for. He lived here with his grandfather (or father?). When his father or grandfather died, he stopped taking his medication. He ended up dying in the upstairs bedroom. It was considered natural causes, but friends and family felt like it was more intentional. The house was locked up, so they had to climb up the back of the house and break the window there to get into the upstairs room to get to him.

Shortly after this, my landlord bought the house and renovated it. 

Again, this didn’t really bother me for all the aforementioned reasons. It’s an old house. And it wasn’t like it was a grisly murder. I love this place, and it would take much more than a dark history to get me to move out when my lease is up. Plus, it’s rare to find a place that includes utilities and lawn care in the rent, so I’m staying for the indefinite future.

My friends, however, are now convinced that the house is haunted. While I consider myself a skeptic when it comes to those sorts of things, I did have to admit that there have been nights when the dogs barked at the hallway for absolutely no reason. You know, where the stairs used to be. 

I would then spend about five minutes hyping myself up to check the bathroom and back bedroom - just in case. I saw nothing. Still think the most likely explanation is that they heard house settling or old house noises. 

Anywho, after that, the party proceeded as parties typically do. We sat and drank and talked in the living room while snacking. Many laughs and stories abounded. Around 9 p.m., the first group left. The storm was getting closer, and they needed to drop off one person in a nearby town about a 15-minute drive north before heading to their place. The rest of my friends who lived in town stayed until about 10:15 p.m. They headed home as the wind and rain started picking up. At around 10:20-ish, I was standing at the front door, saying goodbye to the last guest, who lived in another town about 20 minutes east. 

As we were standing there, the tornado sirens went off.

This is my first time living in town. When I grew up here, we were out in the country - about two miles from city limits - so we never heard them. We had to rely solely on the TV and radio to know when/if a tornado was close. 

I was very confused. They seemed to come out of nowhere. My friend who had just left is obsessed with watching storms on the radar, and she didn’t seem that worried about it when it hit. Plus, it didn’t appear to be a tornado storm. Everything had been relatively calm and was still pretty calm at that point.

When you grow up in Oklahoma, you understand that there are different kinds of storms. While any storm has the potential to produce a tornado, the ones that do are generally pretty big. You usually get some hail. And you can hear the tornado. It sounds like a pack of freight trains bearing down on you, so it's definitely a noise you can’t miss.

This storm was not what I would normally call a tornado storm. I would have classified it as a weak spring storm compared to the two we’d already had this season. And it was relatively quiet. Not that eerie quiet and stillness that you get right before a tornado roars in, but, again, weak storm quiet. When inside my house, you couldn’t even tell that it was raining. 

I looked at my friend, and he said he could make it. After I gave him a look, he changed his mind and decided to stay until the sirens went off. We stood there for a few more seconds.

“Shouldn’t we hear it?” I asked.

“Yea. If there’s a tornado nearby, you’ll definitely hear it,” he replied.

We went back in and I set to trying to get the dogs into the hallway, which is the safe spot in my house. The puppies decided they were comfortable where they were on the couch and not at all stressed out by the storm. My friend then went out onto the porch to watch for the tornado. I kept trying to get the puppies into the hallway, then gave up and called my mom’s best friend in Tulsa, who had texted to see if I was okay.

I told her I was fine, but the sirens were going off, and I couldn’t get the dogs into the hallway. Eventually, my friend came back in and said he couldn’t see anything. The sirens finally stopped. He stayed for a bit longer just to make sure he wouldn’t run into the back end of it as he drove home and then left. 

My friend - the stormwatcher - called at that point and said that the worst of it was over for the night. She had been watching on the radar and knew we were fine when the sirens went off. The funnel wasn’t going to hit town, but I should definitely check in with my grandparents because it looked like it went right over them. 

Cue me frantically hanging up and calling my grandmother. They were all fine. In fact, they didn’t even know that a tornado was heading right for them because the TV went out. The TV came back on during our conversation, and she declared they were officially safe - the tornado was in another small town just east of them down the highway. (In case you don’t know, storms move from west to east.)

After I hung up, I sat on the sofa for about 20 minutes, drinking another beer and decompressing. As far as storms go, it really wasn’t bad in our area, despite the sirens going off. However, there were around 30 tornados all over the state that night, and some of them did some really bad damage. The town of Sulphur was wiped out by an EF3. The one that was spotted near us - cuing the sirens - wasn’t even an EF0, according to reports.

We still have a bit more to go until the end of tornado season. Most happen during April and May, but you sometimes see them in June. Usually, once July hits, you don’t have to worry about them as much. However, tornados can technically happen at any time throughout the year. 

And we have another round of bad, potentially tornado-producing storms forecast for Monday. 

Whew. Welcome back to Oklahoma, Em. 

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