Even though it’s mid-winter, the tornado practice siren peals every Tuesday morning at 10:00 a.m.
Since I know that with snow on the ground the likelihood of a tornado is slim. And yet every time I hear that darn siren, I get a burst of adrenaline.
And it always reminds me of the first summer I lived in this house.
Lilapsophobia: irrational fear of tornadoes and hurricanes
First, let me set the record straight. When I was growing up 20 miles northwest of here, when you heard a siren, it meant serious business. Living in tornado alley means you don’t mess with warnings–you simply take action immediately.
I can count half a dozen tornadoes that came through our area when I was growing up. The first, I was told, occurred when I was an infant. The rest of the family ran for cover in the “under the stairs” closet. Meanwhile, I was left in the bassinet in my parent’s bedroom. I guess that comes with being Bonus Child No. 7: totally forgotten in everyone’s haste. My parents still refuse to apologize and often say, “We would have figured out you were missing at some point.” I think not.
The next time, I was a toddler. Thankfully, my oldest sister remembered that I existed and shuttled me to the closet, along with my other siblings and our German Shepherd. Shoved together with several kids in this small space, I got stuck with the butt end of the dog in my face. Pepper kept smacking me with his tail, dealing with his own canine version of lilapsophobia. When my parents came home from the store, they said the car lifted off the ground as they were driving. Yikes.
The third time I remember most vividly because I was older, and the tornado came through our back yard and had the nerve to take my swing set with it. The concept blew my mind (pardon the pun). The weather can TAKE STUFF FROM YOU? What kind of world was I living in?
There were several other pretty scary storms that likely contributed to my fear of tornadoes, so what happened in 2002 shouldn’t have been a surprise.
Check the Fine Print
I remarried in 2002 and moved into my husband’s home with my then-seven-year-old daughter. Life was peachy, and we looked forward to our first summer in a great new neighborhood.
Then it happened. One July night at 11:00 p.m., I could hear the city’s sirens going off. Adrenaline shot me out of bed so quickly I wasn’t sure where I was…and where the closet under the stairs was…and where Pepper was…and where the swing set…wait a minute! Where was my daughter?
I ran into her bedroom and picked her up, trying not to wake or scare her. This was, of course, impossible, considering I was stealing her from sleep and acting like a maniac. I grabbed the first things I thought of to protect her: a pillow, her gym shoes and her bike helmet.
She was half asleep as we ran past my husband, who was sitting quietly in the living room, watching television with the front door open. The wind was whipping the trees into a frenzy and rain was shooting down in anger. Out of the corner of my eye I caught that menacing scroll at the bottom of the TV screen. I knew it must be describing the peril coming our way.
“What in the world are you doing?” he hollered as I scampered down the basement steps. I ignored him. It was every man for himself.
Once in the basement, I found the nook under the stairs and, as swift as could be, put the bike helmet on my daughter. By now, she was fully awake and terrified that life in the new house came with such nightmarish circumstances. As she was asking me questions, I quickly put on her gym shoes (“We may have to run if the tornado picks up the house”) and then grabbed the futon mattress to put over us.
“What is going on?” My husband was now standing at the top of the stairs.
Was he deaf? Could he not hear that we were going to die? The sirens don’t lie.
“There’s a tornado coming,” I yelled up the stairs from our bunker. ” You need to take cover too!”
He had the nerve to chuckle. Probably just like the tornado that stole my swing set. “It’s just a watch,” he said. “It sounds once for a watch and two times for a warning.”
I didn’t believe him. Who changed the rules? Why was I not consulted? Why wasn’t a national memo distributed?
Evidently a letter had come from the city a few weeks prior indicating they were putting a revised warning system in place. Well that explains it.
How Does One Move On?
That was 15 years ago, and try as I might, I can’t control the adrenaline when I hear the siren go off. Even the test one every Tuesday morning at 10:00 a.m. It fools me every dang time, takes me several minutes of wondering why I would be hearing that screech when it’s a sunny day. Was it one of those creep-up-on-you-and-it-sounds-like-a-freight-train-before-you-know-it kind of storms?
Phobias don’t die easily. But they are spread easily. Even at college, my now-22-year-old daughter instinctively panics at the sound of the siren or the annoying beep on T..V. indicating a need to watch the skies.
And yet I still can’t convince her to grab a bike helmet and a pair of gym shoes before she runs to the basement of her dorm. Silly girl. Doesn’t she know how ingenious that is?