Hello, and welcome to Sleeper Ave.
Waco was a lovely place to be a kid. Its streets were safe, its people were friendly. When my parents built our little house on Sleeper Avenue, we were the newest residents of a neighborhood of World War II veterans creating their new lives, starting families, building careers, making a go of it any way they could.
Our block was full of young families with kids close to my age. We kids didn’t know that we weren’t rich, that our parents were just beginning to eke out a living after the hardships of wartime, that our cars were used, that our bicycles were recycled and refurbished, that the vegetable gardens in our back yards were economic necessities. Our friends lived next door and across the street, a game of hopscotch or jumprope or catch was as close as the nearest sidewalk, every day a new adventure beckoned, and life seemed full of endless possibilities.
We didn’t know then that there were people who lived on streets not very far away, people whose skin was darker or who spoke with accents, whose lives were harder and whose possibilities were severely limited, and not by their own choice. We hadn’t yet been infected with the fears of the nuclear age that would haunt our generation. We didn’t understand then that the different ways we worshipped the same God would place barriers between us as we grew older. We would learn these things soon enough.
On the afternoon of May 11, 1953, a massive tornado roared through Waco. The tornado sirens had gone off earlier in the day, but they didn’t sound when the twister hit. More than 100 people died and hundreds more were injured. Homes were destroyed, cars were crushed, and the heart of the city was ripped apart.
For many of us, it was the end of innocence. I never trusted the sky after that day. Every time rainclouds rolled in, I was terrified. The monthly tests of the civil defense sirens threw me into a panic. Worse, I now understood that I or any of my family and friends could be randomly taken away at any moment. Was this really God’s plan, that people suffered and died for no reason, that life was so unfair?
These were heavy thoughts for a six-year-old to handle; Mom and Dad had no ready answers, and this question weighed on me for a long time. And one question led to many others.
That’s why I chose to write about the tornado to begin Sleeper Ave. That day was the beginning of my need to understand the mysterious nature of things, the complicated workings of the world and the confusing ways of men–a need that eventually led me to career as an artist and journalist. Along the way, I also learned to laugh at the foibles of humans, imperfect and deeply flawed as we are, and at myself most of all.
I’m still exploring these questions, still looking to understand, still mystified, bewildered and enormously amused by the twists and turns our lives take, and I hope you’ll keep me company as I continue my search.