MOORE — Dorise Stanley Biddie stood amid the rubble of her home Tuesday and had a quick reply for anyone who stopped by.
“I tell 'em, ‘I'm not giving up yet,'” Biddie said. “‘I crawled out of that hole over there, I'm not giving up.'”
Like the plagues of Egypt, tornadoes keep descending on Moore. And the stouthearted citizens of Moore keep fighting back.
“I think we're pretty resilient,” said John Burruss. “I wish we couldn't handle so much. You don't ever get used to it. But it's where we live and what we do.”
A day after a monster arrived to match the F-5 tornado that ravaged Moore on May 3, 1999, I walked through devastated neighborhoods. I also went to chat with Burruss, who can speak as well as any about the spirit of Moore. About why people just can't quit the community that sits between Oklahoma City and Norman.
Burruss grew up in Moore, graduated from Moore High School (1979) and has worked at Moore Christian Academy or Westmoore High School most of the last 28 years.
Burruss climbed under his bed in November 1973 for protection from a tornado coming through his hometown. He wanted to watch the Vikings-Falcons game on Monday Night Football, but his mother gave the orders.
Turns out Mom was right. When Burruss emerged from under the bed, he saw the Southgate Baptist Church roof in his backyard.
And yet there Burruss was Monday, at Westmoore, herding students into the safe room just before 3 p.m. as yet another massive twister bore down the Main Street of Tornado Alley.
The 1999 and 2013 cyclones. A smaller tornado in 2003 that still wreaked massive destruction. Moore is either the unluckiest town in America or atmospherically draws tornadoes like no other place on Earth.
“Just a myriad of emotions,” Burruss said while sitting in his house unaffected structurally but clearly affected spiritually. “We laughed yesterday. We cried yesterday. We were mad.”
Neither Burruss nor his wife, Donna, who teaches at Southmoore High School, slept much Monday night.
“What-ifs started rolling in,” Burruss said. “Who taught here? Who lives where?”
They know the drill. Most Moore residents do.
Like David Teeman. He's lived in Moore since 1994. Standing in the driveway of his damaged home in the Heatherwood neighborhood east of Interstate 35, Teeman said no way would he, his wife and his son leave.
“Only three years to pay this off,” he said with a smile. “Only happens every 14 years.”
Teeman and his son, who has cerebral palsy, rode out the storm in their safe room. Then Teeman went down the street and helped 30 or so neighbors free a couple buried in rubble. Teeman admits he's not in the best of shape yet says he somehow picked up a fully loaded dishwasher and tossed it over his shoulder. And while Teeman was gone from his house, 20 or so people came by to check on his son.
“We've always liked” Moore, Teeman said. “Both places we've lived, quiet areas. This is about the most noise you hear.”
That's the kind of neighborhood Dorise Biddie lives in. She reeled off the names of her neighbors in J.D. Estates, also east of I-35. Les, Lennie, Kim. None of whom's houses stood, either.
Twenty-four hours earlier, she huddled in her bathtub, holding her Chihuahua, breathing shallow because the tornado had sucked the oxygen from the air, her knees bruised from banging against the tub.
Biddie bought the house more than 20 years ago. First home she ever purchased. She raised her son there.
A tornado's not going to run her off. She, too, survived that 1973 twister. Rode it out as a teenager in a closet with her brother and sister.
Kick someone from Moore, she says, and “we kick back.”
And here's why. Moore is home. Moore is where memories have been made.
When Burruss and his wife are off on some grand adventure with the grandkids, “My wife always reminds us that we're making memories. We made memories yesterday. Some of 'em weren't very good.”
Burruss is Westmoore's athletic director. His office looks out over a field north of the school, which serves as a driving range for the girls golf team. The 1999 tornado roared right past Westmoore.
“I remember thinking, ‘They'll never get every little piece of shingle and insulation out of that field,'” Burruss said. “But they did. It takes time. It's a scar. A big wound heals, but you're always going to have a scar. And that scar is that memory you make.
“Five years from now, there will be a lot or two still empty. But most will be built back. Some will have moved away. Couldn't handle that memory. But others will stay and make us what we are.”
Berry Tramel: Berry can be reached at (405) 760-8080 or at firstname.lastname@example.org. He can be heard Monday through Friday from 4:40-5:20 p.m. on The Sports Animal radio network, including FM-98.1. You can also view his personality page at newsok.com/berrytramel.