I remem­ber the tor­na­do that struck parts of Louisville in 1974. 

My mom took us young boys into the base­ment, along with flash­lights, can­dles, and a radio. The heli­copter pilot that nor­mal­ly shared traf­fic updates was fol­low­ing the twister as it made its way from close to the air­port, the fair­grounds, the Highlands and Crescent Hill neigh­bor­hoods, and then a few blocks away from our house. 

My dad was at work in a GE office build­ing near Standiford Field. My mom couldn’t reach him on the phone. My old­est broth­er was on his bike deliv­er­ing the evening paper close to the Brownsboro Road neigh­bor­hoods where the tor­na­do touched down. Luckily, he took cov­er in a drainage ditch. I remem­ber the sound of a train from the back of the house, but know­ing that the rail­road tracks were out the front.

Thirty-one years lat­er, serv­ing at my first church in Madisonville, just a few weeks from my priest­ly ordi­na­tion, the sirens go off down the street. I walk out on the side­walk and look down Main Street only to see dark­ness and shad­ows. I make my way to the cel­lar, amidst the stor­age of Christmas dec­o­ra­tions and a manger scene, and hun­ker down with­out a flash­light, can­dle, or radio. I hear the train again as an F‑4 tor­na­do tears through Hopkins County. 

At that time, it was the strongest tor­na­do to hit in the United States. My young son was at a preschool down the street and I rushed to pick him up. Power is out in most of the town, and we can’t con­tact his mom who was in Paducah for a meet­ing. The boy and I end up at a local restau­rant, which thank­ful­ly had elec­tric­i­ty, and I bor­rowed someone’s phone that had a sig­nal. Riley’s mom and her col­league had raced the twister back home and got in her friend’s base­ment just as the storm blew debris across the yard and our car into the neighbor’s fence.

My heart is bro­ken over the tor­na­does that struck our Commonwealth, with its raw force of destruc­tion, shin­ing a dark light, espe­cial­ly, on the vul­ner­a­ble and help­less, yet not car­ing of gen­der, race, sex­u­al iden­ti­ty, eco­nom­ic sta­tus, or career path. The death toll and destruc­tion — like that which we have nev­er seen. The gov­er­nor has shared that whole towns are gone. 

The recov­ery from this event will be long. The grief will be ever-present. The hope that guides res­cue and aid work­ers, first respon­ders, and the myr­i­ad of vol­un­teers is pal­pa­ble. Our love for neigh­bor will always be our light.

  • Jim Trimble

    Jim Trimble is a priest serv­ing Emmanuel Episcopal Church in Winchester. He grew up in Louisville, grad­u­at­ed from Murray State University, and worked in a vari­ety of roles at pub­lic radio sta­tions for 12 years. After sem­i­nary and ordi­na­tion, he served church­es in Kentucky and South Carolina. Married to Nancy Gift, a Berea College pro­fes­sor, he has a son and two step-daugh­ters, along with a num­ber of dogs, cats, and chick­ens near College Park.