My sister Cindy’s 70th birthday party will be memorable for the obvious reasons — plus some none of us anticipated.

First the obvious.

She’s survived some traumatic health issues over the years including breast cancer, an excruciatingly painful spider bite left undiagnosed and untreated for too long, and an under-performing gallbladder, with such devastating side effects that she began making end-of-life decisions before it was finally removed.

Reaching 70 has definitely been a remarkable milestone.

One worth celebrating.

So we did. Big time.

Cindy’s adult daughter, Heidi, and daughter-in-law, Abby, plus their families, planned the party in Grinnell, Iowa, in the nearly windowless Eagles Club, which could easily accommodate the 60-plus people who were invited.

My middle sister loves to dance — line, swing, salsa, you name it. She even gives lessons with her husband, Bob.

So there was dancing, music tributes that reminded guests of Cindy, plenty of food — especially pie — a pinata and of course pictures dating back to 1953.

Even school photos featuring her tight curly perms, large dark-framed glasses and newly purchased dress for the occasion.

My Northern Kentucky sister Rebecca and I had driven for nine hours to join in the fun, while others had come from neighboring towns and as far as Illinois and Minnesota.

Everything went smoothly for the first two hours.

Music played.

Dancers danced.

Folks talked.

Food was devoured.

And the pinata was poked.

Then ... someone heard a noise like a “rat-a-tat-tat” thumping that grew louder and louder until everyone gradually stopped and looked curiously out the tiny window near the ceiling.

That’s when it dawned on us that this was no ordinary thunderstorm that had been forecast.

It was hail raining down.

We dashed toward the door and crowded around to get a better look. Sure enough, the ground was covered with marble-sized hail still pinging off the buildings, lightposts and other objects.

Troublesome, but nothing to freak out about.

Until ... someone ventured out in the pouring rain and came back with a softball-sized hailstone.

That sent drivers dashing toward their vehicles to check the damage.

While they were on their mission, we all got a weather alert — AFTER the fact — to be on the watch for large damaging hail.

No kidding.

The drippy wet drivers drifted back in with tales of woe —and some with bloodied fingers (fortunately Abby is a nurse who travels with plenty of Band-Aids).

Practically every windshield had been pummeled (alas — even the birthday girl’s) like someone had thrown a softball with great force directly at them — then backed up and tried again several more times, striking the windshield in additional places.

But sunroofs felt the greatest impact.

Glass was shattered and scattered all over the interior of the cars. Rain was blowing in, drenching seats, floorboards and anything inside. The owners scrambled to find something to cover the roof until they could seek shelter.

Some drove to Walmart to buy a tarp and tape, only to find the store closed because their ceiling had collapsed from the storm.

Next to be noticed — the dings — all over the cars.





Little was left unscathed.

Many locals left to check on their homes and assess the damage there — and to call their insurance agents.

We tuned into a radio station and caught reports about “insane 70-to-80-mile-per-hour wind-driven hail the size of softballs” battering Grinnell and nearby towns.

By now the wind had died down. The small hail on the concrete directly outside had melted. and the damage was already done.

So the remaining few, mostly family and close friends, simply danced on. and ate more pie — key lime, Derby, chocolate chip, very berry, apple and other delicious flavors.

When it was time to clear out, we cleaned up, loaded up and drove off — with the drivers looking through cracked windshields to see the roadway.

We stopped by one of the three hotels hardest hit by the storm — where some of the guests were staying.

Fortunately, their hotel had double-sided glass so even though the outside was broken, the inside was intact — and so were their belongings.

However, that building and many others in town had siding that looked like it had been riddled with a machine gun. When we got back to Cindy’s house, we found that same pock-marked siding damage, plus some solar panels and shingles ripped off.

Cindy’s second car, parked in the driveway, also suffered windshield and body damage.

Rebecca’s brand new Highlander, parked next to it, wasn’t spared either. It took four major hits to the windshield but luckily that damage was more on the passenger side so the driver could still see. We breathed a sigh of relief because we still had those same nine hours ahead to drive back to Kentucky.

The governor of Iowa issued a disaster proclamation and two days later Cindy already had a check for her car repairs.

However, because of heavy demand it could be a year before she gets the bodywork done.

I think for my big birthday next June, I might just celebrate quietly with a few family members — after carefully checking the forecast.

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