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Sep13WedWhen it comes to tornadoes, keep calm and mow on. September 13, 2017 by Phil Callaway
We live in the small town of Three Hills, Alta., population 3,500—if you count cats. Nothing happens here. Until a stormy day this past June when my son, Steve, looked through the window and saw a tornado moving in the general direction of our house. It’s hard to tell where tornadoes are going, so he did what any responsible male adult would do. He grabbed his smartphone, pressed “record,” threw open our back door and ran straight toward the monster, hoping for a better camera angle.
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Eye on the Prize
The twister touched down a kilometre or so from our house and began sucking up dirt, bushes and cows. The cows came raining down on our town, crashing through rooftops. It was a cowpocalypse. OK, I’m kidding about the cows. But the tornado kept coming.
My wife, Ramona, hollered, “Get inside, Stephen Andrew Callaway. Think of your future. Your wife. Your children.” But Steve filmed on, capturing breathtaking footage. Remarkably, no cows or humans were injured. A roof was torn from a barn, a grain bin was hurled half a mile, an RV was flipped and crumpled while half the town pointed their phones at the sky and gasped, “Woah, have you ever?”
But not Theunis Wessels. Theunis and his wife, Cecilia, recently came from South Africa and settled on the north edge of town—on our street. When the twister landed, they had front-row seats. But Cecilia was napping. And as for Theunis, well, he had a lawn to mow.
Their daughter woke Cecilia and said, “Mommy, look!” Cecilia rushed to the window. A massive funnel was ripping through the field behind their house—while her husband calmly mowed the lawn. Like my son, her first thought was, I’d better grab a camera. “I took the picture to show my mom and dad in South Africa,” she later told reporters. “And now everyone is like, ‘Why is your husband mowing the lawn?’ ”
“I had to get it cut,” Theunis told reporters. “A lot happened over the weekend—a storm was coming—so I had to make sure I got it done.” He knew the tornado was there but said, “I was keeping an eye on it.”
Walking the Walk
Cecilia put the picture on social media and, in no time, CNN, the BBC and Time were among the hundreds that picked up the story. A German news outlet labelled Theunis, “The Chuck Norris of lawn mowing.” Others called him a Canadian super-dad. The Washington Times dubbed him “a breathtaking Internet legend.”
Theunis laughed and shrugged his shoulders. “The tornado looks much closer if you look in the photo,” he says, “but it was really far away. Well, not really far, far away, but it was far away from us.”
Some call Theunis crazier than a four-dollar bill. Not me. I like this guy. Now, should you take cover if a tornado is coming? Yes. Absolutely. Please do. But the photo reminds me of a tiny bird perched in a nest while A massive funnel was ripping through the field behind their house. a thundering waterfall misses him by inches. The photo reminds me of the storms that enter all of our lives.
I asked my neighbour Theunis about storms. “I’ve had my share of them,” he told me. “I was leading the pack climbing Russia’s highest peak. I slipped and fell 100 metres downward. They evacuated me just 200 metres short of reaching the summit. That was a lifelong dream. Maybe that tornado prepared me for this one.” Then he smiled and told me his secret. It’s the part of his story the papers and TV shows didn’t tell. “If your heart and soul belong to God,” he said, “storms still come. But you’re in His hands. You still have to be cautious but keep your faith. Walk the walk. Trust God and be faithful.”
Or as someone said on Twitter, “When the going gets tough, the tough get mowing.”
Feature illustration: Dennis Jones