I grew up fearing the crackly sound of our transistor radio. In my house, it signaled danger and mayhem because it was only turned on when a thunderstorm was a brewin’. Apparently, our radio had only two settings: LOUD, and EXTREMELY LOUD. And its static only meant one thing: my sister, brother, the dog, and I would be scuttled down to the basement by my parents until the crackling radio sounded the “all clear.”
Granted; we did occasionally have some pretty bad thunderstorms in the Chicago area, causing us to lose power from time to time. But it felt like we spent more time in the basement than in the living room. Well, we weren’t allowed in the living room. Anyway, with Metamucil-like regularity, my parents rushed us down to the basement in the dark with flashlights, blankets, and that damned radio.
The minute the skies began to turn a little greenish, sort of like symptomatic snot, my parents declared that we had better take shelter immediately. They feared the “Surrender Dorothy”- type winds, capable of dislodging a 1972 Buick Electra 225 from the garage, would gnarl off the roof of the house.
It got to the point where dark storm clouds instilled as much dread in us kids as teenage acne.
I guess it was good for us to learn to respect Mother Nature, but I also inherited far more fear than was probably ever necessary. Since our electricity went out a lot, I began to suspect that we had faulty wiring, or something. Sometimes, when we lost power, it wasn’t even raining. Sometimes it was darn-right sunny.
So, after I got married and had kids, I vowed not to overreact to things, especially thunderstorms (if I could help it), so that my kids wouldn’t have an irrational fear of flying monkeys.
My friend, Leora, who had spent most of her life being an adventuresome person — meaning that she went well beyond the neighboring suburbs on a regular basis — came over to our house one dark and stormy day when my kids were little. Leora had not only been to other suburbs; she had lived in remote jungle areas in OTHER COUNTRIES. She had always been fearless, so, by now, I figured, there was nothing that could frighten her.
So, when the sky began turning fluish green, she suggested we go to the basement. Wait. Leora suggested we go to the basement? I didn’t know what to do. I was trying hard not to panic and worry that the house was going to begin twitching and pitching. But Leora said we needed to go to the basement. Had she lost her fearlessness over the years, or was she just being logical? After all, even though I had a good understanding of thunderstorms after spending years surviving them on one of the under-stuffed, flower-print sofa-beds in my parents’ basement, I had never seen the wind blowing trees sideways before.
So, I nonchalantly told the kids that we were going into the playroom in the basement because of the storm. After five minutes, I braved myself into going back upstairs, just to check things out. I wanted to show Leora that I wasn’t afraid of a little storm. I got to the top of the stairs only to hear her scream, “Get back downstairs!”
I didn’t realize she had followed me. Our “basement” was actually only a few steps down from the living room because we lived in a split-level house, so the playroom was as far down as we could go. But, when Leora sounded the alarm to go below again, I took one look outside and thoughts of lions, and tigers, and bears came to mind. This storm was a bad witch.
An hour later, we all tiptoed upstairs. The sun was shining. Everything was in color! No more black and white. Leora had been right. We ventured outside to survey the area. One hundred-year-old trees had been uprooted, blocking the street. Trees were leaning on houses. Branches the size of, well, trees, littered the neighborhood. Although the storm was later referred to as a “micro-burst”, it sure looked like a tornado had eaten its way down our street. Maybe our roof hadn’t blown off, but I sure was happy I had listened to Leora, just in case it had.
We have only gone into the basement of our current house once or twice. Again, I’m using the term “basement” rather loosely, since we live in another split-level house. Technology is so sophisticated now that storm-tracking devices actually know where a tornado will be at a certain time. That way, if one’s headed toward our street address, we’ll have at least a few minutes to seek shelter, relieving us from unnecessary trips to the sub-basement –and listening to our own damned, crackly AM radio.