April 3, 2014
This hawkish wind was a predator
It’s the season when the wind roams over the land like a hawk in search of prey. Sometimes it glides gently, close to the earth. Then, dropping suddenly, it pierces our inner ears with its screeching and tears against our flesh with its talons. Such was that most blustery of blustery days: April 3, 1974.
It seems like just the other day that I called the operator at Dill’s Supply in Dayton and told her I was playing hooky from work. I needed a break and was willing to sacrifice a day’s pay to get it. Around lunchtime I gathered together my fishing tackle and stopped to see if my cousin, Eric Stevenson, wanted to go fishing. Eric grabbed his gear, and we were soon headed east on Route 35 towards Xenia. In Xenia we turned northeast on Route 42 toward Cedarville.
The fish weren’t biting at all, as we discussed whether or not we should surrender without a fish, a visit from a vicious lightning storm made up our minds. We wound in our lines and started across a boggy field for the nearby railroad tracks. From atop the railroad levy Eric spied a huge, black cloud on the horizon to the southwest — toward Xenia. It seemed to taper down and actually touch the earth. I told Eric that it looked like a twister, but it was too wide.
We watched the ominous sky rumble across country on wings of thunder. As the storm drew closer we could see the clouds for a great distance circulating and being sucked toward its center. Eric insisted, that we seek protection underneath the concrete railroad overpass which spanned Massie’s Creek. Suddenly the wind seemed to drop out of the sky like a screeching hawk, its talons slashing the flesh of neighboring trees. This hawk, though, screamed like nothing I had heard before, like a thousand banshees; which screaming was punctuated by the sharp snapping of victims’ limbs.
When the screaming mercifully subsided, we peered out from our concrete fortress to witness a curious sight. In the direction from which the tornado had come the sky was full of birds, a flock of thousands. As it drifted closer, though, that vast flock of birds revealed itself for what it really was: a vast flock of flotsam from the shipwrecked city of Xenia.
Something seemed to warn us not to return the way we had come. Instead we followed Route 72 up to I-70 before heading west toward home. It was well we did. As we crossed Cedarville’s northern edge we passed through the main path of destruction. Here telephone poles were snapped like tooth picks. Homes were blown apart like boxes of kitchen matches. A little further down the road our eyes beheld yet another curious site: bare farmers’ fields were seemingly littered with tufts of cotton.
We later found that we had witnessed history - one of the largest and most powerful predators ever.
Despite my personal encounter, and despite the intensive news coverage it received, nothing prepared me for what I would witness during my next visit to Xenia, to assist in the cleanup. Acres of homes had been reduced to heaps of splintered rubble. Fleets of cars had been pounded into mangled masses of twisted metal and shattered glass. People’s lives had been slashed, torn and forever altered by the talons of monstrous winds.
Only then did I fully understand. Only then did a floating flock come into clear focus in my mind’s eye. Only then did I realize that what I had taken to be a flock of birds, then a flock of flotsam, had really been a flock of hopes and dreams — a million bits and pieces of people’s tattered lives. — Bill Sullivan