The Storm Shelter: A Story

Reading Time: 4 minutes

father daughter vintage holding hands

Our homes give us many things, but one of the most important is the memories we make within those walls. Here is one memory that was passed down through generations.

***

“Whatcha doin, daddy?”

My father grinned down at me as I bounced toward him, my old sneakers making hollow booming sounds on the plywood. The plywood was covered in a fine layer of sawdust. From somewhere up above came the whine of a drill.

I watched as my father put a nail against a long beam of wood, then hit it twice — once to start it, once to drive it home. I was always enthralled by how he could do that. It took me at least ten tries just to get the nail going.

“What does it look like I’m doin, sweetheart?” He spoke around the three nails he held between his lips.

“Buildin’ our house!”

He paused and looked up at the ceiling. You could see right through it to the rafters above. “So I am.”

“When will it be finished?”

He grunted and took a nail out of his mouth. “Not soon enough.”

WHAM! One, then two, and the nail disappeared into the wood.

The storm shelter

“What’s that thing?”

I pointed to the only place in the house that appeared to be finished. It sat underneath the rough stairs, a box made of wood and shiny strips of metal. It wasn’t a big room, just the size of a closet, but it had been made with such care that I took notice.

“That’s a storm shelter, for when the tornadoes come.”

I laughed. “But we have grandma’s basement!”

My father stopped what he was doing and looked at me. “Grandma won’t be here forever,” he said gently. “And this is our house. We have to have a shelter, right? Or are you going to run down the road to her house and get swept up like what’s-her-name and her little dog Toto, too?”

I squealed in delight as my father lifted me off the ground, swinging me around the room. I reached my hands to the sky, fighting off the imaginary tornado. When daddy finally won and put me back on the ground, he led me to the little room.

Two hands

“Give me your hand, pumpkin.”

He pressed my hand against the side of the storm shelter and took his ever-present pencil from his front pocket. My fingers tickled as he traced along them. When I moved my hand away, the tracing of my hand was there on the wood. I watched as daddy did the same thing with his own hand. Then he wrote our names in the tracings.

“One day when I’m long gone, and you’re old and gray, you will maybe see this again. Won’t that be awesome?”

I looked at the tracings for a long time. They would soon be covered up by the walls that would go up over the long beams of wood, and then nobody would see them. But I would always know they were there.

I looked back at Daddy, and he winked at me. “Go play now.”

Fifty years later

That beautiful house was soon finished, and we moved in with great fanfare. Everyone in the family came to help. Some even came from far away, driving their RVs and parking them right on our new front yard. They were all careful with the furniture, especially when they carried it up the stairs, because the paint on the walls was new and fresh and clean.

I showed everyone the storm shelter, and it was duly admired with approving oohs and aahs.

But there was never a tornado. They appeared all around us, they even destroyed homes just down the road, but they never touched us. Even when I went away to college and called back home, I would sometimes tease daddy. “Have you used that storm shelter yet?”

“Your momma hangs her coats in it,” he would laugh.

“That’s the fanciest closet for coats in the entire world.”

“You’ll see,” he would say. “One day, you’ll see.”

And sure enough, he was right.

The storm comes

It was supposed to be a rainy day; that was all. But the deluge came, and then the winds, and soon there were warnings that really meant something. I had moved on, but the house was still in the family. I had given it to my son, and he and his wife were raising their two beautiful little girls there.

They heard the howl, they felt the rumble, and they dove for that old storm shelter. There in the darkness, among the heavy coats, they huddled on the floor and listened as the winds took over. Then it was gone, and they were just fine.

When I arrived that afternoon, frantic with worry, I saw something that I know will never leave me. That beautiful old house was a shell of its former self. Every window was shattered. Part of the side was ripped away. Old insulation caught on the grass and waved in the gentle breeze. Branches from the formerly majestic oak trees littered the living room floor.

The things that endure

But there was the storm shelter, standing strong and safe. And there, in the midst of all that destruction, was something I had completely forgotten. A piece of drywall had been ripped away, and the outer shell of the storm shelter was exposed. There, in careful pencil tracing, was the outline of two hands, one big, one small.

It was suddenly hard to catch my breath. It was as if a rip in time had opened, reminding me of the past and making me certain of the future. The house would be rebuilt. It would be strong and sturdy again. But there would be a secret, tucked underneath the drywall, that two little girls would carry in their hearts forever.

“Kids,” I said quietly. “Can you find a pencil for your grandma?”

They dug a pen out of their mother’s secretary desk. It would do. I showed them the hands already on the wall, then I took each of them in turn and traced their tiny fingers, leaving a permanent mark in the place they would always call home. I wrote their names on the wall.

“One day, when you are both old and gray, you might see this again. How awesome would that be?”

They both nodded with wide eyes. Awesome, indeed.

 

 

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Shannon Dauphin Lee

Shannon Dauphin Lee is a journalist and occasional novelist with a serious weakness for real estate. When she's not writing, she and her husband are taking road trips to explore covered bridges, little wineries and quaint bed-and-breakfast inns in their beloved Pennsylvania.