• Jeff South

Father of the Groom: Epilogue

One week ago today my son recited his vows to his bride-to-be and she reciprocated. It was one of those not-a-dry-eye-in-the-house moments one associates with weddings and it was heartwarming to watch the two of them declare their love in such a heartfelt, vulnerable way. They were pronounced husband and wife, shared a kiss, and we all set about enjoying a catered meal at the reception.


Then, the tornado hit.


The storm had been brewing most of the afternoon and the area was under a tornado watch, but the ceremony was in a canyon so we figured we'd be safe if anything hit. The rangers at Palo Duro Canyon State Park assured us that the events center hosting the wedding was the safest place to be in case a storm hit. Rare is the twister that works its way into a canyon. But, the winds started up and the thunder echoed throughout the area in an eerie way I'd never heard before. The wind howled and the rain started to fall. Seemed like a pretty big storm, but not the kind to worry about.


"Hey, y'all!" a member of the bride's party called out, "we need to take cover! Now!"


Approximately 40 men, women, and children scrambled to cram themselves into the two restrooms located off the lobby of the events center. That same lobby, as well as the great room where the ceremony was held, was surrounded by windows. Glass everywhere. Not exactly the ideal for a tornado.


The rain picked up. The wind howled. A funnel cloud had been spotted along the ridge and was forcing hikers off the trails. Three of the hikers sprinted into the events center to take cover. A park ranger came dashing across the parking lot, so I and one of the guests tried to open the door for him. The force of the wind pushed back, making the door nearly impossible to open. A third person came to assist and that along with the ranger jerking on the handle from the outside allowed enough of an opening for him to enter before the wind slammed the door shut.


I stepped into the men's room and headed to the back corner. An exit door there began to rumble and shake violently.


"Uh, Jeff?" One of the groomsmen asked. "Is that door locked?"


I checked it and confirmed it was locked. In retrospect that probably wasn't the wisest thing to do. If the door had not been locked who knows what would've happened. I don't recall ever being in wind that strong.


We rode it out, the storm passed, and the festivities resumed, albeit a bit tentatively. All anyone could talk about was the storm. Most of us were in shock at how close we came to getting hit in that building. The rest of the reception carried on. Toasts were made provoking more laughter through tears. All was well.


Later in the evening, I shared with Sandy that the day had been a reminder of the importance of having a safe space.


"I'm so thankful that you're my safe space," I told her.


As parents, Sandy and I have hoped to see our children grow into adults who are happy, thriving, and moving forward. Six years ago, Sarah married her husband Stuart and they now have two boys of their own. They are off to Florida soon as they start the next chapter in their adventure. Last Saturday, Caleb and Beth started their own adventure. Their day was filled with love and family and hope for the future. When the storm hit and we all took cover, they were briefly separated and Caleb was stressed over not being with her. I was without Sandy because she was tending to others. Caleb and I were both a little lost without them. Once things settled down, we all reunited. He was back with safe space and I was with mine.


Life is filled with storms of all kinds. While I was not thankful for that tornado, I was grateful for the reminder that not only do Sandy and I have a safe space in each other, but our kids have found theirs, too. I'm not sure we can ask more than that.






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