Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Basement Barbies: A Childhood Account of a Tornado

Me around age 4 in front of our Colorado home.

Amidst the devastation in Oklahoma right now, I am torn. When things are too much to handle I tend to pretend they aren't happening and go about with the happy things in life. This usually works, until that moment when twitter can't distract you from it anymore. That moment when you see a tweet about children in an elementary school who lost their lives. That is a sobering moment of reality that hits you right in the gut. It got to me on so many levels. As a mother, I held on to my sleeping child a little longer before lying him down. I risked waking him with one more kiss on the cheek. Then it brought back my own childhood memories of weathering storms in the basement with my sister. Although the thought of a tornado swirling outside is terrifying, I wanted to share my experience in the hopes that it will help with the pain. It helped me deal with mine.

We moved around a lot as kids and everywhere we lived there were big storms. I was born during a blizzard in Indiana, we had floods and lightening storms in Texas, and in Colorado we had tornadoes. As a grown up these things seem scary, but I can tell you my memories of them are mostly happy. The mind of a child has a different way of seeing things. 

We had a basement in our Denver home that we almost never set foot in. It was unfinished and had no appeal to four and seven year old girls. Then one day I saw my mother standing in the front doorway of our home shouting to my dad to get inside. He was across the street snapping pictures of a twister that was miles away. He thought it was neat, my mother did not. He came inside giddy with excitement for capturing a photo and we all were whisked away into the basement. My sister and I weren't really sure what was going on, but we went along with it. My dad turned on the radio and my mom set up an area for us to play. She gave us Barbies, coloring books, and activities to keep us busy. She also handed us newspapers and pillows to put on our heads. Why she thought this would protect us, I don't know, but we enjoyed our "funny hats." We played basement Barbies for hours and I don't ever remember feeling scared. I'm not sure how long we waited out the storm, but I do remember my mom referencing it as "all day" in her accounts of the story. I don't even recall fighting with my sister, which at that age was a regular occurrence  Eventually we got the okay to go back to the main floor of the house either from the radio, or my dad scoping things out himself. 

My sister playing in the basement.
The tornado that seemed miles away earlier had gotten much closer. Our neighborhood was spared, but just streets away homes were plucked from their plots with no rhyme or reason. I think this was the only serious tornado, but we did spend another time or two repeating the basement Barbie's scenario. I know we were incredibly fortunate to be safe and come out unscathed. I am very grateful for that. 
Me playing just outside the basement door.

I hope that those children in Moore, Oklahoma were having their basement Barbies moments. I hope they had no idea what was outside. I hope with all my being that they were being children in all their innocence, playing and laughing while grown-ups carried the worry. I hope the children that have lived through this ordeal keep only the fond memories with them and that those outweigh their fear.

Click to donate to the Red Cross Disaster Relief Fund


  1. Amen!


  2. Thanks for sharing! I hadn't thought of it that way. I hope all the children survivors and non were happily playing some form of "Basement Barbies". Thinking of it tat way takes some of wrench out of my gut.

    1. Thinking of it this way did the same thing for me, so I had to share my story.


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