miles to the north of my birthplace in Louisiana is a town called Rodessa.
Two different things happened there that are stamped indelibly in my memory.
first event was about 1933 when I was seven years old. I was at my grandfather's
house in Vivian, Louisiana where we stayed temporarily during the transition of
our move to Spunky
Flat. I went to a movie one night and when I came out there was a vicious
thunderstorm with rain so dense I could hardly see. I was completely soaked when
I got home. The next afternoon the whole family was chatting in the parlor when
we heard a voice calling out. We sat and listened and heard something like "read
all about it-big twister hits Rodessa -many die!". We ran to the porch and saw
a paper boy walking down the street peddling his wares. Upon purchasing one of
his newspapers we got all the grizzly details. While I was running home in the
rain the night before a tornado had hit little Rodessa, a town with a population
of only about 130 souls. That night 21 of them died.
other memory of Rodessa occurred a few years later, about 1936. Rodessa was in
the center of the Northwest Louisiana oil boom. The derricks were almost as thick
and the ones I've seen during the boom in Kilgore,
Texas to the southwest. The acrid smell of sulfur permeated the air and at
night there was an eerie orange glow in the sky to the north of Vivian caused
by the hundreds of flares burning off the waste gas from the oil wells. Many people
remarked that it looked like the end of the world.
One night my mother
came in the house and asked us all to come outside. We followed her and then looked
up in the sky where she was pointing. There, toward Rodessa was a bright object
imposed through the flares, much brighter and of a different color. It was a blue-green
bar of illumination that looked much like a neon tube positioned vertically in
the sky. We stared in disbelief for a long time until we noticed that it was not
moving. We watched as it just hung there for all to see.
| As soon as it was
dark the next night we all went out to look again. This time we found that we
were not the only ones witnessing the spectacle. It seemed all of Vivian was as
curious as we were about this newfound mystery. This night we were in for another
surprise. More of the strange lights had come out to greet us.|
after that they increased in number until the sky was filled with them. With the
combination of the oilfield flares and the phantom lights the local citizenry
was sure this was a harbinger of doom. They reasoned that God was going to punish
us for messing up His beautiful planet with the unsightly oil wells and the stench.
few days later the Shreveport Times newspaper came out with the revelation
of what caused the light show in our skies. It was one of those rare occasions
when the Aurora Borealis, also know as The Northern Lights, could be seen that
far south. Most of us breathed a sigh of relief but many hung on to their theory
of the coming of Armageddon.
The oil boom died a natural death many years
ago and there is little to show that it ever existed. Now, when driving through
Rodessa, it looks like any other small hamlet. There is nothing to remind us of
the terrible tornado that smashed the town or of the forecast of annihilation
a few years later. If you stopped and asked about the two incidents most would
be too young to even remember them.