The Weather Channel’s Website is notorious for sending me storm warning emails every time the sun goes behind a cloud, so I usually delete them unread from my Inbox. Tuesday night, I should have paid more attention to them, but I didn’t realize what I missed until afterwards. I was skeptical as always about any bad weather on the horizon. As Susie and I were leaving her choir practice at church, the ground was dry and not a drop of rain had fallen.
It would seem that I slept through a typhoon pre-dawn Wednesday morning. My clock radio went off at 7 a.m. as usual. I almost always wake up for brief periods of time during the night, still too tired to get out of bed, but awake enough to be able to glance at the digital clock and say, “Ah, I have x hours of sleep left before I have to get up.” Susie has been on spring break this entire week, so I haven’t heard her moving around as she gets ready to head out to catch the school bus.
Susie was still in bed Wednesday morning when I roused myself a little after 7. Seven a.m. is late for her, since she has to catch her bus at 6:30 (I think she sets her alarm for 5:45). As I was in the shower, Steph came in and asked me if I had heard all the sirens during the night.
This completely puzzled me. What sirens? When she first mentioned “sirens,” my first thought was that there had been several arrests during the night. We have no shortage of reprobate neighbors, including the Bickersons on the other side of our half double. It would not at all be unusual for police to be coming en masse because of some disturbance or another.
When Steph mentioned all the wind and the rain, I realized she didn’t mean police sirens. The tornado sirens had gone off, and there had been plenty of high-velocity winds and rain pelted the house. Steph’s bedroom faces the street, and there are no buildings across the street, so she could see and feel it all as it beat against her windows. (My bedroom windows face the windows of the house next door, so there is a buffer between any weather and my room.) She said she pulled up Channel 10’s Doppler radar on her laptop, and watched the storm as it changed. She considered awakening Susie and me, so we could all head to the basement (no doubt with laptop in tow, either on the National Weather Service’s site or Channel 10’s) and wait out the storm.
Before she could marshal the energy to do that, the worst of the storm had passed over our area. I blissfully slept through the whole thing, and it seems I wasn’t alone. Adding to my hesitancy about whether a tornado was really happening, the Conrail tracks are not too far from our house, and they run parallel to our street. The trains’ sounds are easy to block, and I’m sure that if a real tornado was bearing down on us, my first thought would be it was a really fast and a really loud train roaring by. (I have heard that’s what a tornado sounds like when you’re in the midst of it.)
When I got to work, many of my fellow employees were comparing notes about the ferocity of the storm, how loudly the sirens sounded (and for how long), and what damage they had seen. One of my supervisors lives in Groveport, and the storm came within kissing distance of her neighborhood. (Other than some overturned garbage cans, I saw no evidence of a storm, not even felled tree limbs.)
I have never had a fear of storms or inclement weather. When I was younger, they were a welcome treat, a change from the usual. When the power went out, it was even more exciting. The transistor radio was our only conduit for news and information. Candles burned in every room, and sometimes I would even be allowed to carry a candle of my own–and I was forbidden to be anywhere near matches, even to blow out my parents’ matches after they had lit cigarettes with them.
This never changed. When I was 10 or 11, a storm was an excellent opportunity to start a taped letter to my grandfather, retired and living in Dunedin, Fla. Had he lived in this day and age, he probably would have spend his summers as a storm chaser. My mother said that the grayer and darker the skies were, the greater the chances they would find him lying in the back yard, intently studying the clouds and the sky as they changed colors and patterns. This stayed with him for life–he always had a book about storms nearby, and these books were his Bible when the weather turned bad. (He had even given our family a copy of Eric Sloane’s The Book of Storms, which I gripped in my hands whenever I first heard thunder. I later bought copies of some of Sloane’s other books, such as A Museum of Early American Tools and Diary of an Early American Boy: Noah Blake–1805.)
|I doubt I saw 95% of the storms in this book, and
for that I should probably be grateful.
My mother said that her mother would always be yelling out at the back door, “Lester! Get in here!! You’ll get soaked!” My grandfather didn’t care about that. Storms fascinated him, as much as his other hobbies of bird-watching and rock-hounding. (He was kind of a rural Renaissance man. During his long career of public-school teaching, he taught every subject except music, home economics, and typing at least once.)
Whenever I was making these tapes, I would always stop what I was saying whenever the weather report came on, and put the microphone up against the radio speaker and let him hear the announcer read the latest information about where the storm had been, and where it was going.
I’ve lost none of that. I find storms exhilarating even to this day. A little more so when I’m indoors, yes, that’s true, but I enjoy the adrenaline rush that comes with battening down the hatches, and waiting for it to pass. (I remember humming REO Speedwagon’s “Ridin’ the Storm Out” to myself sometimes when I’ve been alone and waiting for these crises to pass.)
There are people who, quite understandably, don’t share this attitude. One of my teachers at St. Mary’s Middle School in Marietta told the class about how storms frightened her mother. As soon as she heard the first clap of thunder, she would surround her statue of the Blessed Mother with lit votive candles, and out would come the rosary beads.
During the summer of 1987, I was living in a rented room above a small store in Elmwood Place, a village about 6½ miles north of downtown Cincinnati. I was working as a typesetter at Feicke Web. About 2 p.m., I was just awakening (I worked an evening shift, typesetting the illustrious Homefinder magazine), and it seemed muggier than usual, and the sky was yellowish bordering on purple. I went downstairs to get a meal before work. The owner of one of the shops on Vine St. was sweeping the walk and a chubby pre-teen boy came up to him, his eyes like saucers. (Years later, the Martin Prince character on The Simpsons made me think of him.) “Mr. [So-and-So]!” the kid said, out of breath. “Have you heard the news? A tornado has been spotted!” The kid thought that this was indeed grave news. The sentence came out, “A tore NAY dough has been spot ted,” each syllable a word in its own right.
My first thought was that this kid was way overreacting. But later I realized that the village would never be cavalier about tornadoes. Elmwood Place experienced substantial damage during the Super Outbreak of tornadoes in April 1974, from one of the minor storms that spun off the tornado that flattened Xenia. I doubt this kid was alive then, or if he was, he would have been an infant, but he must have grown up hearing anecdotes about it from the time before he could walk.
So, I’m old enough to sleep through a storm that produced many decibels of noise, from rain, wind, and sirens. It’s a hell of a way to learn my sleeping is improving, that I’m actually sleeping more soundly.