Disaster Strikes the Hertzog Homestead

In the spring of 1980, I stared out our living room window, from where in future would become the Jacob Metzler Suite of the Hertzog Homestead Bed and Breakfast. A vicious storm raged outside. The stream that ran through the front yard when it rained spilled out of its banks. The wind whipped through the trees as torrential rain fell. Father was in the attic, and the rest of the family was getting ready to go visiting; I must have rushed through getting ready and was watching one of the only forms of entertainment we had in the country.  As a family, we would often sit on the porch to watch storms toss their lightning about until we were forced inside when the fiercest winds drove the rain onto the wide front porch.

The sky darkened, the clouds a roiling and churning mass, and hail slanted across the yard.  The winds picked up to a frenzy. Reuben Oberholtzer, our neighbor across the road, shooed his family into the basement of his house, and then stood watching all unfold from the kitchen of his home. The wind thundered, a chariot pounding across the farmland.

One moment, I looked out toward the sweitzer barn that had stood on the property since the 1760s, whole and complete. The next moment a gaping hole was torn into roof.  In shock, I yelled up the stairs to the second floor to my mom and dad that the barn roof was gone.  It also tore the shingles off the summer kitchen of the house.

Next door, glass shattered and scattered across the floors of Reuben Oberholtzer’s home. Hail littered the floors of the hallways and the kitchen.  The roof of one of his outbuildings was lifted up over their house and dropped onto the road. Other neighbors, Leroy Martin and Marvin High, had chicken houses that were destroyed.

It was as if a wind shear cut a mile swath through the farmland.  Neighbors speculated that this was perhaps a tornado, though no one I talked to seems to know for sure.  I just remember it being a memorable experience for me. Recently, I discovered that we had video of the the immediate aftermath of the storm; I included it below.

I wrote a poem about that event that was published in a collection of poetry I published a few years ago. Here it is:

OFF KILTER

When the thunderheads rolled frantic from the North
Armed with gales, sounding like a full-throttled locomotive,
I stared through the window as the rain sheeted down.
The violent wind shivered the trees.
The world on the verge of going off kilter.

After the dark clouds spent themselves and the tormenting rains lifted,
The front yard maple lush with summer sprawled across the road, garnished with dancing wires.
Chunks of jagged asphalt and black mailboxes
accented the front yard.
The barn’s tin hat bathed in the corn stubble mud;
Much of the field now painted the white-skinned barn,
The world was off kilter.
          The world was off−−

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