Sunday, May 9, 2010


Every once in a while we'll happen across the weather channel when "Storm Stories" are on. There's always a tornado tale complete with unbelievable pictures accompanying the solemn voice of an announcer retelling the statistics of some awful day in American history when one or more monster storms raced across the plains. The awful magnitude of those twisters makes one sit up and take notice. So much damage, so much loss of life results when one comes to town. I'm still at a loss as to what conditions birth such a killing wind, but I do know about the fear it can foster.

As a child I lived with my grandparents, a bachelor uncle and my older sister. We shared the small spaces of a 5 room cinder block house on a piece of land large enough for a garden, playhouse, chicken coop, a doghouse or two and a plastic child's pool. AND a storm cellar! From the upside it just looked like a mound of dirt complete with grass growing on top and mushrooms popping out in the spring. The slanted wooden door with the big metal handle was the only clue that something was beneath. After slinging that heavy wooden door open the only way to proceed was down. There were three huge concrete steps that led into the darkness. On both sides of the narrow room were bins holding potatoes and onions from the last harvested crop and along the back were shelves filled with Granny's canned green beans, tomatoes, corn, & peaches. Clear quart jars displaying all those different colors was a beautiful sight. Lined against the potato bins were folding stools, one for each family member. The underground room smelled musty, damp and spooky. A grandaddy long legs or two was a familiar sight as well. (I fell like I've just described "Life on the Prairie")

Often, and for some unknown reason it was always in the dead of a summer night, we heard Grandpa shouting, "get up, get up, a storm is comin" and we would immediately hop out of bed and run to the back door. Everyone knew the drill. As we raced toward the cellar the rain would pelt us, the wind would blow our ponytails and nightgowns in all directions. He held the flashlight as we all clamored down those concrete steps into the darkness of the cellar. Each person was assigned a folding stool and each assumed a perch. Grandpa would swing the big door behind us and sit on a step peeking out through a crack in that big door, waiting for the twister to pass. The rest of us were just impatient to hear the "all clear" signal so we could go back to the warmth of our beds. Sometimes the wait was longer than others and then we'd have to entertain ourselves in the dark. Singing, story-telling,and re-hashing old jokes were all part of the talent show held in the blackness of that place. It was there I learned the game "Simon says, thumbs up" and the words to "Red River Valley". Knock, knock jokes were a standard. The longer the wait the wilder those lyrics became. Granny was the master of ceremonies and an expert at keeping two little girls calm while her husband was in a near panic. The laughter shared in that unusual place is surely held in it's earthen walls.

Evidently Grandpa had experienced the real deal as a young man. He'd seen first hand what a fierce wind could actually do and he was determined to protect us. Interestingly he was the ONLY one in the family that battled that terrible fear of storms. I guess first hand knowledge of a frightening event prints pictures in the mind that last forever. Thankfully, the worst damage I can remember was one or two downed limbs off the maple tree. Once or twice we heard the roar over us but nothing ever touched down in our neck of the woods.

And now it's tornado season in tornado alley where we live. Terrible storms have devastated the Oklahoma territory in the past few years so we need to take note. The warning whistle is located right in the corner of our backyard so if that thing works in time we should get a little notice that the big one is on it's way. Hopefully we'll have enough sense to grab a pillow or two and hunker down in the bathtub! I'm pretty sure it'll be more comfortable than that old cellar, but I'm just as certain that it won't be as much fun!

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