purple butterfly

Spring was on the way again, and we were busy with the preparations. Grandma supervised the planting of the seed trays again, but she did not come out to watch the garden being plowed.

Our neighbor Elza Warfel lived a mile north of us. He came to the house on Thursday, March 19, saying he had been hearing some news and wanted to make sure we knew about it. A horrible tornado had ripped through southern Illinois just sixty miles south of us. The tornado had been worse than any storm on record.

“Even worse than the tornado that hit Mattoon and Charleston in 1917?” Grandma asked. She marveled that any storm could be worse. Nearly a hundred people had died and hundreds of homes and businesses had been lost back then. Grandma had known some of the people affected. It had been so close to home, and familiar places had disappeared.

“This is so much worse than that, people are wondering if it is a sign of the end,” Mr. Warfel said. The tornado had traveled nearly three hundred miles from Missouri through Illinois into Indiana. It hit Murphysboro, West Frankfort, and dozens of smaller towns, farms, and schools. It traveled fast, during the afternoon when everyone was busy and going about their regular jobs. A thousand people may have died, more thousands injured. Thousands of homes were gone. No one had ever seen such a storm.

“It strikes the just and the unjust,” Grandma said quietly. “In an hour when no one expects it.” And she closed her eyes and I think she may have been praying.

Why wasn’t there any warning?” Grandpa wanted to know. “They have telegraphs, and telephones along the railroad tracks, and people can see what’s happening. Why don’t they tell the people ahead that something’s coming, so they can find shelter?”

“I don’t know,” Elza said. “The government says they don’t want to alarm and frighten people, but people do need a warning. It seems that times are getting worse and worse. Things are changing.”

Grandma shed tears for the suffering she continued to hear about. The death toll reached seven hundred people, with fifteen thousand homes destroyed. We were only a few miles away, but we did not know what to do to help. She was small enough to start with. She seemed to shrink before our eyes, except for the enlargement of her legs and feet. Grandpa and Chlora wrapped her legs and feet with white gauze as the doctor had told them to do, but it didn’t seem to help much.

A week and a half later, in the evening, Grandma announced softly that it was time for her long walk. We looked at each other, puzzled, but no one asked her what she meant. She asked Mary to read to her from her old bible, the Twenty-third Psalm, which Mary did, stumbling over some of the words and needing Pearl’s help. Grandpa needed to help her move from her easy chair in the parlor into the downstairs bedroom. She didn’t wake up the next morning. Grandma died on April 1, 1925. We thought it odd that she died on the day everybody called “April Fools Day.” She could never tolerate fools.

“Grandma enjoyed these last few months, didn’t she?” Mary said.

I pictured her at the Christmas tree. “I guess she did,” I said to Mary.

The undertaker came from Hidalgo, bringing a casket, and set up the casket on a stand in the parlor. Family and neighbors came from all over the neighborhood , bringing food, and visiting through the evening, and some stayed up through the night, as we prepared for the funeral the next day.

Brother Hutson and Brother Ward and other elders of the church came and prayed with us during the evening, and they returned in the morning when we closed the casket. They walked with us as my two uncles, three cousins and I carried Grandma’s  casket to the black funeral carriage pulled by two black Belgian horses. We followed the carriage in Grandpa’s Model T. Other cars and horse-drawn buggies followed us as we drove the three and a half miles toward Aten Cemetery It was a slow ride through Hidalgo, and then we turned right on the dirt road that led to the woods northwest of Hidalgo. Her father, Solomon Cooper, had been buried back in 1899– after the service we found his old  tombstone. Grandpa Lon said he would be buried there, too, right next to Grandma. Aunt Allie and Uncle Bill said they had a plot right next to Grandma’s and Grandpa’s. It seemed strange that my Mom and Dad, and Grandma and Grandpa Hunsaker, would be in different places, but I guess it didn’t matter.