I first recall seeing jars of canned food in the light of a kerosene lamp in the dank and dark storm cellar. I was just a kid, and it was where we went during bad storms.

My grannies would be huddled down in the cellar with me to wait out those storms. Oftentimes the neighbor ladies came over as well because they didn’t have their own storm cellar to go to.

Storms can be serious business in Oklahoma.

In the storm cellar, I saw canned food in the shadowy light from a kerosene lamp.

August is often a month for powerful thunderstorms. And for many places, thunder and lightning reach their crescendo for the whole year.

It is one of the clearest memories I have of those long ago years. Being in that storm cellar while thunderstorms swept into town, and then raged for hours.

I will never forget the way the light danced across the canning jars as whoever held the kerosene lantern tried to hold it still.

During the winter, those jars of food were taken down from the shelves for meals.

During The Thunder Storm:

The other thing I recall inside the cellar was what we called daddy longlegs.

Also called harvestmen, they are an order of arachnids. They are known for their extremely long and thin legs and compact bodies.

They would raise those long thin legs and plant them down solidly in the next spot. Their bodies were minuscule compared to those long, long legs.

I would watch them as they crawled, unhurried, across the ceiling and walls in the cellar. They were unperturbed by the loud storm outside the cellar walls.

It was always a kind of fierce reckoning when the storm’s winds calmed down and the thunder stopped.

Then the cellar door was pushed open from the inside, and we would walk up the cement steps back into the light. Sometimes I’d see a colorful rainbow in the cleared sky.

When You Were Allowed In The Cellar:

That cellar reminded me of a humpback whale.

There were two reasons you were allowed in that cellar. One was during bad storms. And in Oklahoma, we often had bad storms and high winds.

The other was when one of my grannies went inside to fetch canned jars of food.

They’d carefully lift the heavy cellar door and lay it against the grassy hump in the dirt. Then they’d go inside to retrieve jars of food for meals.

Looking at it from the outside, the storm cellar was a hulking presence; a little menacing in my eyes.

On the inside, it was just a dark and damp place, used as an underground pantry as well as a place of refuge.

The Canning Jars:

In my mind’s eye, I can still see the canning jars gleaming in the light.

We didn’t have a car to go into town to the grocery store. So summertime was when the canning of food from our garden commenced.

Then the filled jars were taken outside and down into the cellar and lined up on the shelves.

The food that came from those jars is what people buy in cans today. But you can’t replicate the taste of food in cans to what we ate from those jars.

My childhood memories of the storm cellar come back to me during bad storms.

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23 Comments

  1. Brenda, I too love to hear your stories. You paint such a vivid picture that I feel as if I am sitting next to you watching the light dance on the ball jars.
    My grandmother had a basement with wood shelves that covered the walls from floor to ceiling. As a child I remember my aunts would help her can jars of tomatoes, peaches and so many other vegetable that would ate all winter long.
    I hope that you are doing well today!

  2. I love stories of the past. Your memory of canning food triggered one of my memories. I am 71, born in Appalachia. Everybody in WV had either a springhouse or a root cellar, and everybody canned food in those glass Ball jars. Not so long ago, I met up with a senior lady (older than me) from England. She was a knitter who sold sweaters at a craft fair here in San Diego County. Her thick sweaters drove our conversation to surviving cold weather. I asked her if she “put up” for the winter. She was puzzled by my expression. After I explained that put up means to can fruit or vegetables, she said that she never canned food in her life, and didn’t know anyone who did.

  3. We get bad storms here in Illinois in August, too. Glad we have a basement when we have tornado warnings.

    We lived in Kentucky for a few years when I was a teen. That’s where my mom is from. Storm cellars were common there.

  4. Brenda, I loved this post today! I love hearing stories of your childhood. I lived in Florida when I was a kid. We obviously didn’t have cellars or basements there. You dig too far down, and you’ll run into water. We did get thunderstorms in the summers, but honestly, I don’t even remember preparing for a hurricane. Maybe because, as a kid, it was not something I needed to worry about, so it never registered on my radar. I just did normal kid stuff. When you talk about huddling down in your cellar, it makes me think of The Wizzard of Oz movie. That’s what I imagine it would be like. Regarding the spiders, that would have freaked me out. I had a daddy long legs surprise me in the kitchen the other night. I was not happy about that! I’ve never liked spiders, although, I have a grandson who loves them. I hope you’ll share more of your childhood memories with us. I also thought of something fun to do. We could all play caption this picture. You could post a picture, say of Ivy for example, and your readers could write captions for it. Wouldn’t that be fun?

  5. We’ve been fortunate that many tornadoes swept through parts of our Illinois communities.
    Definitely close calls.
    On the other hand, ruins of these fierce tornadoes can strike anywhere.
    That’s how frightening and scary they are.
    No real storm shelter for us in this house.
    Several times we had to go into the basement though.
    So far this summer, the rain and storms haven’t caused us damage. One never knows if it will happen.
    Years ago, when younger, I loved canning vegetables!
    All sorts of interesting applesauce flavors. It’s fun to use an assortment of fresh apples!
    🍎 🍏 🍎 🍏
    These days I no longer put up food. Miss doing it a lot.
    Enjoyed reading your post today Brenda.

    1. I lived in central OK and there is a town called Moore in between Norman and OKC. Usually the tornado will skip over Norman (where I raised my girls) and OKC, but it has leveled the bedroom community Moore in the middle several times.

  6. Growing up in Dallas in the 50’s and 60’s, we didn’t have air conditioning and boy was it hot. In 1956 or 57, we had a tornado that traveled about 3 blocks from my house…I remember it as being very loud. Brenda, if you have BritBox, there are two new seasons of Silent Witness that just started (season 24 and 25). I really enjoy this show…the characters are forensic pathologists that work with murder victims. I have watched this from the very first season.

  7. Scary times right now for so many in our country…poor Kentucky and W.VA folks…loosing so much including loved ones!! Tornadoes are no fun either. They can come here too…though not so often as other places. Even 1 time a small one dropped down in my folks place in Idaho, took out a huge old cottonwood tree beside their door, but otherwise all was ok. A lot of the peace of living in a place that did not get tornadoes was lost for my mom after that one!!

  8. I have memories of storms and storm cellars. It was puzzling to notice one of my grandparents had a cellar and the other did not. One lived in the city and the other in the country in a farm. Lots of canning there. Thankfully we have weather forecasters and even apps on phones to keep us alerted. We were not allowed to play on or in the storm celler. I just not thought of the fragile roof that a couple of children bouncing on could destroy.
    We need rain. Soon there will be water rationing.
    We need a small hurricane to break this HOT weather pattern. It has been a hundred or more since the first of June. This is an unusual number of days. And a colder winter usually follows. Take extra care of yourself for several more weeks.

  9. I remember similar things. When I was a little girl living in Oklahoma meant Wally Kinnan, the weatherman on WKY, would come on TV with a hand drawn map and point out where storms were reported. This was days before radar, and it was very elementary. If it was raining then there would be an umbrella, thunder was reported with a lightning bolt, tornadoes were shown as a twister and sunshiny days there would be a big face of the sun! Wow, that was a really long time ago!

  10. I remember my Grandmas cellar. It was dark and dank but we lived playing on the stairs made from rocks. It just looked like a small hill from the outside. My grandma stored canned foods and potatoes in the cellar. I honor her memory today as I can tomato juice. I wish I had that cellar for my canned foods. Thank you for the trip down memory lane. Prayers for healing of your ankle

  11. I can only imagine the memories that come back when there’s a storm raging. I’d be extremely frightened.

  12. The movie “Twister,” was set in the state of Oklahoma. Oklahoma is #4 on the Top Ten list of states that get the most tornadoes yearly. Scary, for sure.

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