Saturday, November 11, 2006

Blogging For Books

The Blogging for Books topic this time is "Weather." Here is my submission.

Ready or Not, Here It Comes

Weather, eh. Whether weather is good or bad, we always have weather, whether or not.

Here in southern Indiana, the weather is usually pretty good. However, when our weather isn’t being pretty good, downright fantastic, even, our weather is being bad to the point of scary. Think “death and destruction,” whether you want to or not. Weather here is schizophrenic during certain seasons of the year. Whether spring or fall, winter or summer, we’ve got weatherly contradictions, whether we admit it or not. We might as well admit it.

Take spring, for example. Spring in southern Indiana is a season of delight. We have wildflowers that can enlighten the senses and make a person feel as though he or she will live forever. The breezes blow, the sun shines, the temperatures vary from perfectly cool to perfectly warm. Southern Indiana is the American location of the Secret Garden. Our weather, whether rain or shine, is Edenish.

Unless, of course, in the midst of the lilacs and tulips and crocuses and forsythia and dogwood and apple and peach and persimmon blossoms and warmth and sunshine, one hears. . . . the siren.

Not on Saturday morning; that’s when the siren is tested. If one DOESN’T hear the siren on Saturday morning, people worry.

But on any other day, at any other time, the Siren makes people stop whatever they’re doing and run.

They run to their cellars and basements and closets and bathrooms and they shut the doors and they cower until they hear the OTHER siren, the one that tells them it’s safe to come back out and resume living.

In schools, there have always been tornado drills. As with the fire drills, intruder drills, atomic attack drills (put your history book in front of your face and get under your desk and you’ll be all right), tornado drills have become a joke with many students. Whenever the alarm for any kind of drill sounded, the teacher had to grab his/her gradebook and march the students to wherever they were supposed to go, depending on what kind of drill it was, that day. Sometimes the firemen grabbed a student and hid him, to see if the teacher was really keeping track of who was there and who wasn’t.

Tornado drills sent our students out into the halls, to get down on their elbows and knees, heads against the lockers, hands clasped on the backs of their heads, asses raised high. The teachers’ job was to keep the giggling down and to keep the students from raising their heads and getting a good look at this admittedly giggle-inducing sight. Oh, and to stand between the huge plate-glass window and the students.

As a teacher, I must confess that I never took tornado drills very seriously. My mindset was as juvenile as any 8th grader’s mindset: tornadoes occurred far away, and affected strangers. We read about them in the paper the next day, felt sorry for the people, and the Beta club sent shoeboxes of stuff to the Red Cross in that area. Far away. Strangers. Asses in the air. A long, long row of multi-sized asses raised high in the air and wiggling. It was hilarious.

One day, in 1991, my entire attitude changed.

All that day at school, the weather outside had been strange. It alternated between pouring rain, blinding sunshine, a little hail, and some more rain. Springtime hail is a bad, bad sign, by the way. The sky was streaked with black and white and red, and the very air seemed orange. We had a tornado drill, just to remind us all that it was spring in southern Indiana, and the weather outside was frightful, and to be inside was so delightful. . . . .

I was upset that night because I was taping the miniseries “The Phantom of the Opera” to show one of my classes that next week, as we had been reading the teleplay in our Scholastic magazine. The weather’s interference made my tape less than perfect, and distracted me from pausing and starting up again in time when the commercials were concerned. I still have that tape, by the way, with its weather warnings running across the bottom and destroying the sense of class that the movie might have had.

The next day, Saturday, the weather was still weird. The siren didn’t go off.

This put the entire community on edge, because on Saturday morning the siren was supposed to go off. Was it not working? We needed a working siren, especially when the weather was already weird. And the weather was weird.

That evening, the siren went off.

Around that same time, the radio went on emergency broadcast. Then the power went off and we got out the little battery-powered portable. Thankfully, it still worked in spite of being older than dirt and having the words “Hullaballoo” printed on it.

We were instructed to go into shelter, immediately. I took the children and went down into the family room, with the closet-under-the-stairs open and ready to dash into at a moment’s notice. I didn’t realize then that a tornado will not always give you a moment’s notice.

My husband went outside to watch the sky.

“Hey, come out here and look!” he shouted to me. “The sky is full of little cloud circles. It looks like some giant has been blowing smoke rings out here!”

“Are you nuts?” I replied. “Get in here with us before you’re blown to Oz!”

He finally came inside. He waited till we heard the train coming, but he did come inside then.

I’d always heard that tornadoes sounded like trains. They do.

We were fortunate, that night. The tornado cut a wide swath just behind our woods. We lost a few shingles and a lot of tree limbs, because of the high winds, but we were very lucky.

Many of our neighbors were not so lucky.

Only a couple of miles from our house, that tornado wiped out over a hundred homes and injured a lot of people.

Large trees flew through the air, and when the funnel crossed the White River, it was like Moses dividing the Red Sea. People could see the bottom of the river.

When the funnel reached the trailer court (why is there always a trailer court involved whenever one reads about a tornado?) the people had had a minute or so of warning, and most of them were running across the cornfield across the road from the court. As the funnel hit the metal, a woman was picked up by the winds and carried several hundred yards and smashed into a tree. As the funnel began to cross the cornfield, a new baby was ripped from his father’s arms. Their last sight of their son, alive, was of him flying and screaming across the sky and disappearing into the woods.

The next day, the weather was beautiful. The sun shone and the breezes blew, and my neighbors were picking through the remains of their homes and trying to make sense of the whole thing.

The community held a funeral for the baby. For several years afterwards, his father travelled from school to school, talking about tornado safety and what can happen if one doesn’t take precautions. That is, he did until our schools did away with guest speakers. It interferes with test prep, you know.

The woman was condemned to live out the rest of her life in a wheel chair, paralyzed form the waist down.

The next year, I had the son of this woman in my class. He was a very quiet, very nice little boy.

The first time we had a tornado drill, he turned as white as a ghost. For just one moment, he seemed paralyzed, too, but when he did move he moved FAST.

The other kids were laughing and joking as they lined up against the lockers out in the hallway, on their elbows and knees, asses raised high in the air, but nobody did it as quickly as this little boy did.

To the other kids, tornadoes meant some fright and inconvenience and some media attention and a cool night of sleeping in the closet.

To this boy, tornadoes meant seeing your mother smashed to pieces and hoping against hope that she wouldn’t die like the baby who had lived next door and who flew through the air like a Frisbee. Not even the intensity and immensity of his father’s love was strong enough to keep the baby safe. Not even the intensity and immensity of her children’s need for her was strong enough to keep the mother safe. This boy knew that.

The other students were laughing and jostling and giggling. Asses high in the air.

This little boy, though. . . he knew what tornadoes really were.

His mother died a few years ago. Residual effects of the original injuries.

Her son is an adult now, but he's an orphan just the same. His children will never have a grandmother. The tornado destroyed his children’s chances of having a grandmother. Mother's Day? Holidays at Grandmother's house? Gone. Lucille Ball was right when she said "You're never really old until your mother dies." He's young, but he's old.

So when I hear the sirens on Saturday mornings, I’m glad to know they work.

And when I hear the sirens any other time? I run like hell to the closet under the stairs, and I call my children who now live in another town, and I worry like the dickens because they both live on the top floor of apartment buildings, and in my mind’s eye I can see those buildings swaying. . . .and I pray.

Weather? It’s something we always have, whether or not we’re ready for it.

And weather is the boss of us, too. Weather doesn’t care whether it sucks a newborn baby out of its father’s arms, or a tree branch from a tree, or a bale of hay from a barn. It’s all the same to the weather. A tree limb, a bale of hay, a baby. . . .

When the weather is benign, appreciate it. Dig it. Groove on it. When the weather shows its teeth and claws, respect it. Hide from it.

But never forget that if the weather really wants to find you, it will.

Posted by Mamacita (The REAL one) @ 5:17 PM | |


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