When I called her, the old woman was preparing to leave southern Kansas at sunrise, bound for western Kentucky, where the recent tornadoes hit.
It all started for her yesterday evening.
“I was praying for Kentucky,” she said, “and God just told me to go.”
So that’s what she decided to do.
She packed an overnight bag, made sure her house was locked, and hired a cat-sitter. She activated the timer on her Christmas lights. She plugged in the life-size inflatable Nativity scene in her front yard.
A seven hour drive awaited her. She had plenty of coffee in her thermos, and CDs to listen to.
“I don’t mind long drives,” she said. “It’s kinda relaxing.”
Before she pulled away, she opened the tailgate of her F-150 one last time to make sure it was all there.
Inside her truck bed were a few hundred bags of groceries. She spent a lot of money buying them. She bought things like diapers, Saltines, Wonderbread, JIF, ramen noodles, toilet paper, Folgers, crossword puzzle books, socks, and baby formula.
The old woman slammed the tailgate shut. “I got so many groceries in there I could start my own village.”
Then she crawled into her half-ton and drove off.
We continued our phone conversation as she sailed along Highway 400, past hamlets like McCume, Cherokee, and Atlas, edging eastward. I asked what her plan was with all the groceries.
“Plan?” She laughed. “Ain’t got no plan.”
So she will simply drive. And somewhere outside Springfield, she’ll catch Highway 60, and keep driving until she hits western Kentucky and sees the heart-crushing damage.
“Then I’ll just pray for signs,” she explained. “God’ll tell me what to do next.”
Sixty-six years ago, the old woman went through the worst tornado in Kansas history. She was a child, living with her aunt in Udall, Kansas.
The year was 1955. It was a different world. The bumper stickers read: “I like Ike.” The price of gasoline was 29 cents. Lucy and Ricky were on TV.
Udall was a fleck-on-the-map town about the size of a bathroom rug. A tiny place with some grain elevators, a water tower, and a few perspiring preachers. A town so small that both city-limit signs were nailed to the same post.
One spring evening the town was leveled by an F5 tornado. Not “damaged.” Not “decimated.” Leveled.
Pickup trucks were found wrapped around trees. Entire homes were thrown across pastures. Half the population was killed.
“I was just a girl. I was in my bed, sleeping, then my ears started popping and my hair got all staticy. My aunt thought Jesus was coming back.”
The description is eerily similar to what happened a couple nights ago in Kentucky.
For those who have been living on planet Jupiter, a tornado-spawning weather system recently tore through the Midwest and the South, drawing a straight line of devastation across six states, starting in Arkansas, and finishing its hellish journey just north of the Kentucky border.
One tornado moved through places like Benton, Princeton, Beaver Dam, and Breckinridge County. Its path stretched over 220 miles. An estimated 100 are dead.
The official number of deaths keeps growing every few minutes. In some places, rescue efforts have become more like community burials.
The town of Mayfield, Kentucky, is half gone.
Kentucky governor, Andy Beshear, said, “One of our challenges is… Most of our morgues aren’t big enough, so our coroners from all over the state are coming in.”
Right now, approximately 50,000 Kentuckians are without power. Thousands are without water, cellphone, or internet. In Graves County, many are homeless, some are missing children, spouses, pets, and loved ones.
There are people wearing borrowed clothes and eating emergency food. There are children sitting in shelters, still coming to grips with the fact that Mom and Dad aren’t coming back.
And one anonymous old woman is making a road trip to Ground Zero.
“I can’t do much,” said the old woman, “but I got a little money saved up, so I can buy groceries.”
As she drives, she listens to music from a CD her son gave her. It’s an Oak Ridge Boys album. During our conversation, “Just a Little Talk with Jesus” is playing on her radio. She is traveling five miles under the speed limit.
The rural woman does not know how she will distribute her groceries. Maybe she’ll find a local food drive. Maybe she’ll happen upon a shelter and drop off the groceries there.
“Or maybe,” she said, “I’ll find someone just wandering around and I’ll just say, ‘Here. Take this. God bless you.’”
As you scroll through your feed today, maybe seated before the glow of a Christmas tree, or within the warm company of loved ones, one elderly Samaritan from the Sunflower State has a message for you:
“Don’t forget to pray for Kentucky.”