Family gathered for early Thanksgiving gives thanks
GIFFORD — Duane and Carolyn Schluter's family gathered Sunday for an early Thanksgiving at their farmhouse northeast of Gifford.
Ten minutes after saying grace, they were even more grateful.
Eighteen people escaped serious injury by fleeing to the basement, seconds before a tornado swept the house away.
"God took care of us. We were all good to go," said Michael Schluter, Duane and Carolyn's youngest son.
On Tuesday, the Schluters were cleaning up and collecting debris, with the help of friends, FFA members and other volunteers.
The Schluters chose to celebrate Thanksgiving early, as they usually do, because children and grandchildren had other places to go on the actual holiday.
"Everyone went to church, then right after church, we came back over here," Michael said.
Expecting nasty weather, he and Duane moved the vehicles into the shed and garage to avoid possible hail damage, then watched a little TV.
"We just sat down at the dinner table, said grace, then started filling our plates," Michael said. "Mom stood up to get something and said, 'It looks bad out there. We'd better go to the basement.' Dad said, 'Let's go.'"
The basement door was right around the corner. Michael's oldest brother, Mitch, held the door for everyone, and they filed down.
Mitch followed, and as he reached the last step, "the sub-floor of the house went," Michael said.
"Everything peeled off like a sardine can," Duane said.
Suddenly there were bare skies above.
The beauty salon that Carolyn operated on the south side of the house was "totally gone ... we never found where the walls went," Michael said.
As for the main house, it wound up 40 feet to the east, with the top story down first.
"The kitchen table was in six different pieces," Michael said. "If we would have been 10 seconds later ... I don't even want to say."
Downstairs, the Schluters were unscathed for the most part. Carolyn's hand was cut and needed a few stitches, and a grandson had a sore back.
"We were black and blue in a few places," Duane Schluter said.
In the basement, some walls had caved in, "but not where we were," Michael said. Contents from the machine shed — including a bulky container of seed soybeans — blew into the east side of the basement. The Schluters were huddled on the west.
"We were downstairs maybe 30 seconds, but it felt like five minutes," Michael said.
Once the tornado went through, it started sprinkling, then turned to pouring rain.
Seeking shelter wasn't easy. The machine shed and garage were both gone, and the power lines along the road were down. The only vehicle that could get out was a sprayer, and Michael drove it across a field to his house a quarter-mile to the east.
With no electrical power, Michael had to break down his garage door to get his truck. He drove it across the field to pick up the rest of the family and take them to his house.
"It was an amazing thing God did here," keeping us together, Duane Schluter said.
"Us" included: Duane and Carolyn, oldest son, Mitch, and his wife Peggy, and their sons, Brent, Aaron and Cameron; middle son, Mark, and his wife Missy and their sons Matthew, Jacob and Joe; and youngest son, Michael, and his wife Summer and their daughter, Natalie, and sons Evan and William. Matthew's girlfriend, Miranda Clampitt, was also on hand for the terrible event.
On Monday and Tuesday, dozens of people were on hand to help the Schluters pick up. The cleanup brought back memories, as Michael found remnants of toys he and his brother played with as kids.
"Dad made us a barn when we were little," he said, adding haltingly that he had found bits and pieces of it in the yard.
Also found in the yard: a refrigerator from the garage of a neighbor whose house is a quarter-mile to the west. That home was leveled too.
Duane Schluter, who will turn 70 on Dec. 9, grew up in the house and returned there with Carolyn in 1972 to rear their three sons.
As for whether they'll rebuild, Duane Schluter said, "One day at a time. We don't know yet. This is my home place, but there's nothing left of it."