Scary Moments: 8 Times I Could Have Died

This week, I’m focusing on Halloween with a few spooky posts.

People visit haunted house events during this time of year. I’ve been to some over the years and was never impressed with these, rarely unnerved by them. I’ve been through my own scary situations enough that fake ones just don’t get to me.

Here’s a list of scary moments that stick out to me:

  • Mauling by dogs – I wrote about this one in a Father’s Day tribute a few years ago so if you want to read the entire story, you are welcome to click the link. In short, I was walking home one Saturday afternoon when I was about eight and was surrounded by about eight menacing dogs. I could have been a mauling victim and died except for my father running from the house and yelling at the dogs and causing them to scatter. Scary moment if you think long about it. Werewolf movies and such monsters in haunted houses just don’t compare to the real thing.
  • Almost shot in the house – I can’t remember if I wrote anything about it, but I walked through the dining room Sunday afternoon as a teenager. I heard the tinkle of broken glass but noticed nothing wrong. Later, we discovered a bullet had come through a window in front of which our china cabinet stood. The bullet pierced the window, the china cabinet (front and back, the front being glass) and lodged across the room in the wall. It was a random shot from a hunter in the woods below our house. The bullet missed me by mere inches. The realization was very unnerving by how random the event was.
  • Fire in the chimney – my sister and I arrived home to a roaring fire in the fireplace and the heat turned up by a family member who left. The furnace cause a swift draw of air up the chimney when we opened the door. I told my sister to get out while I called the fire department. They argued with a kid about reporting a fire in the chimney, but I won that when I told them to just come and that I was getting out of the house after dousing the flames in the fireplace. It did nothing for the chimney which was spewing flames like a rocket. We could have died, but somehow the house was undamaged. Another sobering moment that stands out in my mind.
  • Bike accident – I grew up in the seventies and nobody wore a bike helmet. I rode an old bike with pedal brakes. For those who done know how those work, you reversed your feet on the pedals to brake the bike. The harder you jammed a foot back, the faster you stopped. With a hard one, you’d skid. Footwork was important to slow the bike, so having the pedals horizontal was best for a fast stop. Anyway, our street attracted kids from all over and we could easily have fifty bikes tooling around on the street. I rode down the street at top speed when my older brother turned in front of me on his five speed. I was moving so fast I couldn’t brake or steer clear. I ended up ramping off the front tire. Perfect! We couldn’t have rehearsed it any better. Except, I was unprepared for the sudden flight and landed, falling in my back. I don’t remember hitting my head, but they were watching me all day for a concussion. I easily could have ended up with severe head trauma the way I landed. I was lucky I walked away.
  • Neighborhood shooting – As an adult, I lived a few years in a rather edgy neighborhood. It was mostly fine, but you had to watch for things happening. One evening, we exited a neighbors house to a kid wheeling around the corner on a bike without a chain. The next door neighbor yelled to stop him from stealing the bike, Without a thought, I gave chase. The kid jumped off the bike, pulled a gun, and fired it wildly, then ran away. That was a stop in your tracks moment.
  • Spinouts on the highway during a storm – I used to be a delivery driver during that same time. Summers in Alabama often have thunderstorms that pop-up. It will pour rain and the interstates will be slick as ice if it hasn’t rained for several days. One such storm happened and I slowed my speed in the center lane, especially crossing over another interstate on an S-curved overpass. Suddenly, multiple cars passing me began hydroplaning in circles around me, smashing into retaining walls and bouncing back into the traffic. With a tooth-grinding grimace, I somehow steered clear of all the mayhem and felt like the Millennium Falcon bursting from the Death Star just as it explodes. I could have been crushed, rolled, or knocked over one of the walls. I couldn’t have pulled off a better death-defying stunt if I tried.
  • Tornadoes 1974 – A lot happened when I was a kid, but there was one night when tornadoes struck all across the country. Alabama had a large number of twisters touch down everywhere. We lived in a stone-mortared house on a ridge. If you aren’t familiar, tornadoes will hope ridges and follow valleys. They were coming from everywhere. We had a semi-portable basketball goal on a wooden frame and went out to pull it down, then shove it next to a wall for some cover. During all that, I was looking the right direction when the sky lit up with a massive lightning bolt for several seconds. I saw a massive funnel cloud rolling by in the night. Very scary moment. We took cover in the basement which was like a bunker. Incidentally, that old house was sturdy and had a large tree fall on it in another storm some years later. Aside from some cracks in the interior wall, the house had little damage. House – 1, Tree – 0.
  • Tornado 4/27/2011 – That day a famous tornado churned through Tuscaloosa, AL. It ran on the ground just about the full length of the state into the north Georgia and Chattanooga, TN area. The debris cloud was visible on TV radar and pieces of Tuscaloosa were dropped across the state as far as Chattanooga or further. It was an EF5 tornado and those can suck up pavement. Another one that size ran through the state and flattened a few small towns. But the Tuscaloosa storm has the most filmed footage of any tornado I know of – check out the results of a YouTube search.
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What does it have to do with me? Aside from it passing within a few miles of my house, that morning was marred by fast moving squall line of thunderstorms around dawn. Sirens woke me and I let the dogs out as I checked the weather on the TV. When they came back in, I started to check the TV again since the warning was for a storm across the county. Lights flickered and I held my breath, turned to get my daughter out of bed and then the power failed entirely.

The noise of a tornado is like standing next to a freight train. It’s a rattle and hum like you’ve never heard and moving fast. I thought it was straight-line wind as I stared out the back into the near darkness and thought our deck furniture was wrecked. Nope. An EF3 tornado went past the back door. I was standing a mere 20-30 feet from death when it whirled past the house. When I checked outside is when I realized how close to death I had just been.

Tornados lose power when they go through something and this one arrived from a stand of trees on one side. It threw down several trees onto our fence and one swiped along our chimney. No damage to the back deck occurred because those woods took some steam out of the twister. By halfway across the length of the deck, it tore the top of a gum tree out forty feet up. Twenty feet further and it was past the house, regained power, and tossed a massive white oak over like nothing. That’s how fast a tornado regains power.

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It was one edge that stretched behind the house several hundred feet. That’s a big twister to dodge. Tuscaloosa was a half-mile wide. I was very thankful to be alive because a lot of people died that day and the date is still remembered statewide.

Bonus Story

As if those weren’t enough, barely a month later, we were traveling back from a funeral in Indiana. It was another bad day where we dodged tornados back to Nashville. It was raining so hard and so much water was down, the big, hanging gullies from the bluff over the Cumberland River were full, raging waterfalls.

We stopped by my youngest brother-in-law’s house to visit, thinking the storms would blow over. Within minutes all the interstates – I-65, I-24, I-40, and I-440 were closed due to flooding and we were stuck. Storms never abated all that night as the system was just stuck like a train of storms rolling overhead and dropping water on Middle Tennessee. 

When we got up, the interstates were open and I said, “If we don’t go now, we won’t get out of Nashville.” I saw from the radar that the rain stopped just south of the suburb of Franklin going south on I-65. We got in my old Honda Pilot and started for an entrance. We couldn’t get out of the neighborhood for all the flooded streets, even finding a police car underwater with the lights somehow still flashing. 

My wife remembered one street and we found water just barely lapping over the center. I drove through and got to the Interstate. It rained so hard, the interstate was standing with inches of water and we drove less than 30 mph. When we finally got to Franklin, the water stopped like someone turned off a faucet. Going over the ridges south of town, the winds were very rough – this was what kept the storm system in place.

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Later we found out where we got on the interstate, a small hill had collapsed onto the ramp – literally minutes after we passed. Not only had we escaped that mishap, but we had lived through the infamous Nashville flood of 2011. Yep, we lived through two major natural disasters in less than a month. Now that’s something spooky.

While you’re celebrating Halloween, pause and be thankful in all the fun. Life is precious and can be snuffed out in innumerable ways within mere moments. I’m sure many people have similar stories to mine, but those stick out to me and serve as reminders to take each day with a thankful heart. And, yes, I have more stories than those, but this is long enough.

Let me know your scary close encounters with mayhem in the comments. Please share this post and stay safe!

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