The spring of 1893 looked good. Port and Billy had gotten a third crop of cotton planted and the rains had cooperated. Young cotton plants were coming up, looking strong and healthy. There was plenty of sunshine and warm days to make them grow even stronger and higher. Chopping cotton had to be done early that year because the plants seemed to be ahead of schedule. The boys had barely gotten out of school when they had to go to work chopping cotton, a job they dearly hated.
It was rather warm that spring day in May when all of the men folk were in the fields. Mattie and Sarah Catherine were back at the house chasing after little Albert and Owen, who were not so little anymore. Both were walking well and feeling their oats. Owen loved nothing more than to run through the field of "hilled rows", jumping and turning as if he were a wild horse. His mother had let his hair grow long, like a girl's and he thought of his hair as the mane of a wild horse. He tossed his head from side to side and tried to whinny like a wild horse.
"That boy is going to be the ruination of me! He runs like that all day long. I can't keep up with him. I never seen anybody with so much energy as Owen!" Mattie clucked her tongue and wiped her brow. She and Sarah sat in the shade of the houses and snapped beans. Sarah only smiled at Mattie.
Sarah looked up into the sun and said, "My! It's warm today. I wish it would rain again and cool us off a bit."
"Well, you may get your wish, Sarah Catherine. Look behind you. There's a whole line of big old fluffy clouds movin' up from the west. We could get some rain out of them."
They finished snapping the beans and went inside to start lunch for the men folk due to come in soon. Sarah had a new woodstove that was just the latest thing out of Kansas City. They could put wood in the stove and cook right there on the stove. It surely made cooking a lot easier.
Noon came and lunch was ready. Mattie went to the door and rang the dinner bell so the men would hear it. She glanced toward the fields and could see them begin to move toward the house. Clarence and Creight were racing each other. "They must be powerful hungry to run in this heat," Mattie thought.
She looked beyond the men folk and could see a line of clouds, growing larger and moving toward them. Huge "anvil heads" were forming on their 30,000 foot tops. But the sun continued to shine down on Mattie there in Paoli—and it was hotter than ever. She wiped her brow and set out the wash basin for the men to wash up before entering the house.
Soon everyone was inside, chattering, joking and sitting down to their noon meal. Port raised his hands for quiet and he said the noonday prayer. After the prayer, Port added, "I think we might have rain this afternoon." "We probably better finish choppin' cotton early today and bring in the stock. Creight chirped up, "You won't get no argument from us!" and smiled at the rest of the boys. Mattie shot him a look and Creight mumbled "I'm sorry" for being so mouthy.
After everyone finished eating, there was usually a lull between lunch and the return to the fields. It was allowed to find a cool place for a short nap or just to find some place to rest before returning to the fields. The boys wandered off in a knot of camaraderie and Mattie called after them. "Don't you boys go off too far—and find some place to rest!" Port and Billy went to their favorite chairs and sat down heavily for a little rest while Mattie and Sarah removed the dishes and began washing them.
Port tilted his head back and wiped his face with his handkerchief. "I declare it is one hot day for spring," and he closed his eyes. Billy lit his pipe but it was almost too hot to smoke, so he put it out. He got up and wandered over to the women who were chatting quietly. "Where'd the boys go?" Mattie scolded her dishwater. "Lord only knows! I can't keep up with your youngest one, much less that crowd of older boys!" Billy smiled at her and winked at Sarah. "Sarah? You reckon she would like to have another one?" Mattie looked up at Billy in feigned wrath, "Billy Mead! Bite your tongue! You uncivil rascal!" and she flicked dishwater at him.
"Here! You two! Calm down before I snap you both with my dishtowel." Sarah made a menacing move toward them both. Billy laughed and walked away. He stepped out into the warm sunshine and sat down on the steps of the house. He was going to lean back against the doorsill for a quick shuteye when he noticed the clouds. They were looking much darker and he heard distant thunder.
He got up and walked toward the barn. He heard the boys laughing within the barn and he whistled to them. "You boys go out and bring in the horses. Bring 'em into the barn. Motioning toward the clouds, he said, "That is going to be a thunderstorm here in awhile." The boys stopped their laughing, looked at the clouds, and became serious. Allie led the group out into the sunshine and made a quick step for his saddle horse.
Without a lot of direction, members of the family went into action to bring in the livestock, put them in the corral or barn, get the hens and roosters into the henhouse and batten down anything that might blow away in a wind.
But there was no wind. Instead, it was unseemly quiet. The birds stopped singing. The air seemed heavy. Mattie came to the doorway and looked up. "Oh, Lordy! Them's twister clouds!" She could see a dark cauldron of boiling green and black clouds over head. She picked up the bell and clanged for everyone to come quick. Port jumped up from his nap and Sarah Catherine came to see what all the fuss was about.
"We need to get everyone to the cellar. This is going to be a bad storm," Mattie said to no one and everyone. People began scurrying around, picking up things or putting them away. When the boys heard the bell, they came running. By now, everyone was standing in the front yard and watching the ominous clouds. It seemed so quiet, the air so still, the sun still shining and the black cauldron, boiling above them.
Billy watched the cloud. "Maybe it will pass over us." But he knew they shouldn't take any chances. "Let's all get to the cellar," and he began moving people that way.
The cellar was dark and cool, but spider webs and darkness made it a foreboding place. Mattie found a match and lit a kerosene lamp that she brought with her. Fruit jars that lined the walls stared back at them in the shadowy light of the lamp.
And then they heard the sound. The terrible sound! A shrill high wail that could have been a banshee; first, off in the distance and then closer and closer. Then the roar of the tornado hitting the ground and grinding up everything in its path. The air in the cellar turned a mystical blue and the lamp went out. They heard a terrible crash of wood on wood and the roar of the twister ground into their ears. Everyone huddled closer together and the babies began to cry, out of terror.
Hail began to fall on the cellar door and the clatter was deafening. Then, rain. Lots of rain, falling hard and fast. It rained for twenty minutes and little rivulets of water began to stream down the cellar steps. Then, the rain lessened and stopped.
There was an odd feeling of pressure in their ears, making them pop or stop up so they could hardly hear. Then it was gone. The wail grew less intense and the wind began to die down. The banshee left with its wail, moving off in the distance. Above ground, it was very, very quiet.
Billy opened the cellar door a crack and sunlight flooded the cellar. The banshee was gone and left sunshine in its wake. Billy moved cautiously up the steps and opened the cellar door wide. The family filed out cautiously. To their amazement, the breezeway between the two houses was gone. The little house that had been built for the Mead family was jammed off its foundation and slammed flat up against the original Gower house. The two houses had become one!
[Author's Note] Cecil Gower, son of James Elihu Gower, and grandson of Elisha Porter Gower described the tornado that came close enough to the house that the one part was jammed up perfectly aligned to the other part and the doorways to each house were almost perfectly aligned. He lived in that house for a period of time.