Memories of my Father - George Willard Gibson, 11/18/1918 - 9/3/2012

Entry 2: 806 Maplewood Drive

On June 10, 1958, an F3 tornado struck El Dorado, Kansas. The tornado actually moved to the southeast, an unusual direction for tornados, and went through the southwest corner of the town. There were no tornado sirens in the town then and 13 people lost their lives. My family lived on North Alleghany Street in a small house. My dad was at work at the refinery north of town. Mom was home alone with her 3 children - Roger, age 10, Kathy, age 6, and me, age 0.5. Legend has it that I was getting a bath at the time, but my memory of the event is hazy. There was a thunderstorm going on and Mom looked out the front windows and saw something she described as "an elephant's trunk hanging out of the sky." Mom was never particularly good with crisis situations and she communicated her fear and panic rather freely. She told Rog and Kathy to sit on the couch, apparently wanting to make sure they didn't decide to suddenly run outside into the funnel.

Among the neighborhoods devasted by this twister was the cul de sac of Maplewood Drive. Maplewood is about two hundred yards of curving street that crosses Cave Springs and ends in a circle drive. On the east side of Maplewood, at the end that connects to Towanda Avenue, sits 806. Dad bought that lot after the tornado cleared it. In 1960, he built a house there and that house is where I grew up.

Directly south of our house, across Towanda, is W.G. Skelly Elementary School.

Dad drew out the plans for the house on notebook paper. He bought all the lumber and supplies and the house was built by him with significant help from my mom's side of the family who all lived there in town.

Dad with my Grandpa and Grandma Maus in the early stages of construction.

It had three bedrooms, one bathroom, and a kitchen with the back door leading to the storm cellar he dug out back. After the '58 tornado, storm cellars became very popular in El Dorado. The largest room in the house was the living/dining room. At one end was the entry alcove and at the other end was a set of built-in cabinets and bookshelves. My Dad's skills as an architect can best be described as pragmatic but not flashy. The house wasn't really anything special, but the built-in bookshelves told you a lot about my parents. They loved to read and they expected their children to love it, too.

Mid-construction, you can see the previous location of the sidewalk leading to what was once a front door. Now, that's one end of the living room.

The finished house on a cold winter's day - showing the new sidewalk, front porch, and front door.

My parents bedroom was in the southwest corner of the house. My brother and I shared the bedroom in the southeast corner. I use the term "shared" rather loosely. Roger owned the room and I was grudgingly allowed to live there. We slept in bunk-beds that Dad built by hand. They had bookcase headboards and two drawers under the bed that held toys and assorted stuff. The house never had central air conditioning. There was a window water cooler in the living room and later my folks installed one off their bedroom. As for Roger and myself, we had a south window and in Kansas that means there was sometimes a breeze from that window during summer, though it was often a pretty warm breeze. I can remember lying on the bottom bunk in sweltering heat with a rotating electric fan across the room blowing on the beds and the distant sounds of the Skelly Refinery along with traffic on Towanda coming in the window. Along with the pervasive hydrocarbon stench that was living in El Dorado.

In 1995, I built tables and a sink for my darkroom in Iowa and I learned something important: my dad was quite a carpenter. It's not easy making stuff like that. At least, it's not easy to make it functional and reliable. Dad designed, built, and furnished a house which is a tribute to his skills as a craftsman. The fact that two adults and three (and later four) children found themselves using a single bathroom suggests Dad might have been a little shortsighted in planning, but what he made worked.

Which is more than I can say about some stuff I've made.