Peggy's Story

Peggy contacted me via email. The house she lived in then, is the house where Diana lives now. Diana has provided me with the Omaha World Herald from May 7, 1975... which I will post when I get a chance. Still have a lot of scanning to do.
(...The anticipation of what was coming our way got the best of me, I stood up and looked through the trees in Peterson’s backyard and was stunned. The sky to me looked “blue-black” and I saw huge things whirling in the sky.... )


THE BLUE-BLACK MASTER

Oil paints surrounded me on the table in my home at 2052 N. 75th Street… I slowly stroked out some naked black trees and gray clouds on my canvas.

Penny 12, and Amy 6 was off playing inside the house while I enjoyed my past-time with my radio tuned into 1290 KOIL. The weatherman said that the storm was in the Bellevue area so I was content and feeling safe.

It was soon time to go pick up Melinda and Melissa my 13 years old twins from Lewis and Clark Jr. High. Penny, Amy and I drove to the school but we could not find them. Driving slowly back home and looking for them along the way was worrisome. We got back home, got out of the car and I looked up the street and saw the twins getting out of a neighbors car. I was angry for awhile, about them not letting me know they were riding with someone else. At least we were all home safely now.

We all went into the house and the girls went to their rooms and I settled back down to work on my oil painting knowing I had some time before starting dinner.

Suddenly a heavy rain began to come down and then it quit. I looked up from where I was sitting and out of my front door. An eerie feeling came over me. The trees glistened, all the birds and squirrels came down to the ground and it was perfectly still and strangely quiet. It was then that I remembered something my Mother had told be “beware of the lull before the storm”.

Panic struck my stomach as the radio announcer said, “Get to your basement….and my radio went dead. I unplugged and scooped the radio up.

I screamed at the girls to get to the basement “NOW” and they scattered.

I quickly ran to a window in my breezeway and hollered at “Mary Schulte across the street to get over here”….she said, “No, we are going in our crawl space if anything happens”.

This wasn’t the first time I had told her that day that she and the kids should come over to our basement. She kept refusing until we all realized there actually is a tornado coming our way.

Mary and her kids came running, I went to the basement ahead of them and plugged the radio back in…and I heard the announcer say “get in your basements and stay there” then the radio went dead.

We began to build our instant shelter in the southwest corner of the basement. First, we turned furniture over and then I got the mattresses off the kids beds and laid them on top of the toppled furniture. We told my four girls and her five kids to get underneath it all. Followed with explicit instructions to start praying.

There was no room for Mary and I to get under with the kids so we grabbed two cushions off a couch and put them over our heads and sat down with our backs against the cement block wall.

The anticipation of what was coming our way got the best of me, I stood up and looked through the trees in Peterson’s backyard and was stunned. The sky to me looked “blue-black” and I saw huge things whirling in the sky. I slid back down to a sitting position and remember saying, “Oh, my God, it looks just like the Wizard of Oz out there”

As the tornado approached the loud cracking of the trees being broken, and then the roar that is indescribable…to me it sounded like a fleet of jet airplanes flying low over our roof tops. The cement blocks behind our back pushed us forwarded ever so slightly…Mary and I looked at each other totally stunned.

The pressure was awful. It felt like my ear drums touched in the middle of my head. I remember screaming at the kids to cover their ears. I know they couldn’t hear me but I had to say it.

After the roar subsided I couldn’t wait to get out of the basement. Mary said, “Don’t get up yet, there could be an aftermath, we don’t know.”
I felt angry and blatantly said, “There had better not be.”

After waiting a few minutes I had to move, I got up and went up the
basement steps and looked out the door. Horror set in, the breezeway and attached garage were gone and so were the houses on 70th Street. I went back downstairs and told everyone to stay calm because they are not going to believe what they are about to see.

We smelled gas and knew we needed to get out of the house. We all went up the steps and the door wouldn’t open, John Joe, Mary’s oldest son, kicked the door open. We all stepped out on a cement slab. Stunned we just stood there looking around us. It began to rain an icy cold rain. We were freezing cold.

Now, smart me, thinking I had my wits about me, gave everyone instructions to stay right where they are. I had spotted a floor covering that comes from under a room sized rug, it was hanging on top of the bushes to the back of our lot. My head told me that I could go out there and pull it down and bring it back to the slab and cover everyone.

First of all I am trying to step over all the debris and nails in the backyard. Second, what made me think I could pull a “wet-rubber floor covering” off the bushes, let alone drag it fifty feet. All this time I thought I was calm, when in fact I was far from it.

I turned around half-way across the yard and here is my 6 year old standing behind me. I picked her up and was returning to the cement slab when I heard Mary’s daughter, Kathy yelling out in panic and my daughter Mindi slapped her and said, “Stop that, that isn‘t going to help anything!”

We all stood quiet for awhile until, brainstorm here, decided we were going to single file across the scattered trash, downed wires, and step across our chain link fence that had been knocked down to go to the Peterson’s house.

We finally reached the back steps of Petersons house and I knocked and hollered and no one answered. We entered and went down to the basement and grabbed clothes off a rope line and quickly wrapped up in them. We went upstairs and Mrs. Peterson and one of her daughters was there and were okay with our entry.After standing in awe for quite awhile, I saw my husband at the time approach the front door after he climbed over a large downed pine tree. He came in the door and came straight to me and said, “I went all through our house after I called your names, when no one answered I thought you were all dead.” Our eyes filled with tears.

That night we stayed with his brother and family about ten blocks away, when my husband and I came back the next day the National Guard was standing on 70th and Blondo with a rifle in his hands. He stopped us and said we needed something to prove we lived on this street. He did not accept drivers license, he said it had to be something like the “deed to our house”….we finally talked him into escorting us the one block to our house and I went inside and actually found the deed. The National Guard gentleman left after he saw it.

Everything in our house was ruined by the wind or the rain…. except a television set we had saved a long time for and just purchased the week before. It merely had one little nick on one side of it.

For us the nightmare had only begun, we had difficulty sleeping at night with the helicopters going back and forth in the area watching for looters.

My husband went to work everyday until a decision of what we needed to get done was made. We had to tear the main floor of the house down so he and his two brothers decided they could pull the walls down if they chained a wall to the back of my husband’s pickup and he pulled it down. I can still see his back tires nearly four feet off the ground every time he gunned the motor.

Amongst all this we also drove the children to and from two different schools until it was out for the summer.

As for me, I had lost my sense of balance and felt like I was falling, this went on for a year. I had also developed a form of agoraphobia. I couldn’t go into a store without my head spinning and would have to leave.

We needed to move out of my brother-in-laws house and we looked and called many places, they either “hiked” the cost of living in their apartments to the point where we couldn’t afford it, or they didn’t accept children or pets. We owned a poodle named “Ruffles”. We finally found an apartment in Ralston the would take children and a dog. It was called “Stony Brook”. Thank God.

Everyday I drove to where our house was destroyed and just sat in the yard looking in disbelief at basement with a floor on top of it and a toilet and tub sitting side by side in place.

A reporter from the Sun newspaper came to interview me. She wanted to make a heroine out of me. I told her I would only do an interview with the understanding that she drop that idea, because I felt I didn’t do anything differently than others would have done for me. She agreed.

The basement had a few inches of water in it and we had no means to get it out. Until my husband and I decided to take a blanket crawl down into the basement soak the blanket, drag it up and twist it out and repeat the process. That sounded simple until you know the tiles had been loosened and the glue had swirled around in the water making it smell like sewer water.

Each time we brought the wet blanket up we both twisted the blanket…while we gagged and coughed and spit…then laughed. We continued until we left the windows open to dry it out for several days. After it dried out I went down inside and poured pinesol everywhere and left the windows open again to dry it out. Hurrah! We saved the basement. We designed the house the way we wanted it for our family.

We finally found a Construction Company to build a new house on the same corner. It took a little over six months before we could move in.

Thanks to the Red Cross, the volunteers that helped clean up the debris, Montgomery Ward for a clothing certificate, neighbors for food brought to us and to anyone else who helped us to recover our wits enough to get on with our lives.

I’m sure that others understand that to recount a tragedy like this there will always be a lot left unsaid.

A big thank you to Scott Hayden for caring enough to develop a wonderful website for people to view and contribute to. This is so kind of you.

My summation for this nightmare and life-changing ordeal is:
“People are more important than any “thing” we can ever have in a lifetime”

God bless all who were affected by this storm.

Peggy Gleason