…The morning of my fourth birthday, Sunday, 30 August 1987.[i]
“Vickie, why don’t you open this one next?”
I looked over at Aunt Claire, who had just spoken. She was holding a package whose shape did not puzzle me at all. The most common gifts in our house were books. And this, I could see, was another one.
But don’t misunderstand: I loved books—even then. There was nothing I would rather get. For each one was a surprise; each one held a new world for me to explore.
“Careful, Vickie,” said Aunt Claire. “Don’t rip the paper.”
This was one of the things Aunt Claire had tried to teach me—saving the wrapping paper on gifts. Every year, birthdays and Christmas, we kept using the same paper over and over again. Sometimes it drove me crazy, waiting while Aunt Claire carefully slit the tape with her fingernail—she had sharp ones! And then carefully removed the paper, neatly folding it to save it for the next occasion.
“I’m trying not to,” I said. But it was hard. From the layers of tape I could tell we had used this particular piece lots of times. It was getting pretty brittle.
From the paper I slid the book—and it was an old one. A very old one. An aqua cover with gold lettering. I read the title: The Great Cyclone. In smaller print, it said St. Louis. The drawing on the front showed a tornado so large that it consumed practically the whole cover. The funnel cloud was destroying a couple of large buildings—larger than our house. Debris of all kinds was swirling around inside the twister.
Because the book looked so fragile, I was gentle as I opened to the title page, where I saw it was published in 1896 by the Cyclone Publishing Company. What a name. I wondered if all their books were about tornadoes.
Carefully, I turned pages and saw many photographs of the terrible tornado that had ripped through St. Louis on that day so long ago. Piles of rubble where there used to be a building. Houses without roofs. Trees and utility poles lying in the street. People standing around looking amazed.
“I bet you’re wondering why I got that book for you?” Aunt Claire asked.
“No, I know why.”
“Because I was reading The Wizard of Oz,” I said. “And you told me that the cyclone in that book wasn’t very real.”
“Correct!” cried Aunt Claire. “Just listen …” And she recited from memory the paragraphs from The Wizard of Oz about the cyclone:
…there came a great shriek from the wind, and the house shook so hard that she lost her footing and sat down suddenly on the floor.
A strange thing then happened.
The house whirled around two or three times and rose slowly through the air. Dorothy felt as if she were going up in a balloon.
The north and south winds met where the house stood, and made it the exact center of the cyclone. In the middle of the cyclone the air is generally still, but the great pressure of the wind on every side of the house raised it up higher and higher, until it was at the very top of the cyclone; and there it remained and was carried miles and miles away as easily as you could carry a feather.
It was very dark, and the wind howled horribly around her, but Dorothy found she was riding quite easily.[ii]
I clapped my hands with joy. Aunt Claire could always amaze me with the unusual things she knew.
“No applause is necessary,” she joked. “Just give me money.”
We all laughed.
“But where did you find a book this old?” I asked. “I’m afraid it will fall apart when I read it.”
“Oh, it’s just something I had around,” she said, a little mysteriously.
“Just be careful with it,” Father added. He held the book now—and was looking curiously at Aunt Claire over the top of it. “There seem to be some awful stories in this book. And such sad pictures.”
“Tornadoes are awful,” announced Aunt Claire. “And you’re never too young to learn about them.” Then she smiled a wicked smile.
And then it was Father’s turn to give me a gift. I looked over at him. He was holding a package shaped like a shoebox. But larger.
I went over to him and took it from him. It was so heavy I almost dropped it.
“Watch out, Vickie. It’s heavy,” my father laughed.
I set it down right at my feet, sank to the floor, and began to unwrap it—being careful, of course, to preserve the paper.
But I finally slipped it off to discover … what actually was an oversized shoebox—large enough for boots. But there were no shoes or boots inside. When I lifted the lid, I found—instead—a bunch of tools. A hammer, some screwdrivers, a carpenter’s measuring tape, pliers—all sorts of devices.
“A good present,” said Aunt Claire approvingly. “A girl need to learn how to fix things, and not just underwear rips and missing buttons, either.”
I looked at my father. His smile was so large it divided his face in two.
He went over to the couch, reached under, and pulled out some pieces of wood he had hidden a few weeks ago. I’d found them already while looking for a book I’d misplaced. But I pretended to be surprised.
“And look,” he announced, “here’s some wood for you to practice on.” It was in all sizes, shapes, textures, and thickness. “Make something wonderful,” he said.
And so, the very next day, I did.
[i] Why does Vickie write dates like this? It’s the European style, not the American. But maybe she knows that and is trying to throw me off the track. And remember … Vickie read a lot. She had probably seen this form in a book somewhere, liked it, copied it. And, needless to say, I’ve discovered that there were no Victoria Stones born in Ohio on August 30, 1984.