Every time a tornado siren sounds, I still feel like I should spend the night in the bathtub covered by the mattress from my bed. That’s the tornado protocol in southern cities like Memphis, Tennessee (I grew up there) where most homes don’t have basements.
First, we’d receive a scrolling announcement at the bottom of the TV screen that we were under a Tornado Watch. I never seemed to know where any of the affected counties were so, I’d ask my parents, “is that close to here?” Their response would start out with a loving “no” but by the end of the night they were yelling “are you planning to ask me that every five minutes!” The storm watch would go on until there was an actual tornado sighting at which time the television networks would convert the watches to warnings and from then on all regular programming was interrupted for full storm coverage.
“A funnel cloud has been spotted just outside Memphis. Take cover Immediately! Move away from the windows to an interior hallway!”
As soon as my father heard the siren sound, he’d walk outside and stand on the porch looking for the tornado off in the distance turning my storm fear to a fear for my father’s life. I don’t mean to insinuate that he’s some rogue storm chaser type; I guess he just found it interesting. “Stop being a big baby!” he’d laugh.
Last summer tornados tore through the Nashville area where my parents now live. As he always does, my father walked outside to take a look around. I can picture him standing there in his very dated Bermuda shorts, no shirt and bare feet staring off into the distance taking it all in.
When he spotted the funnel cloud coming toward him, he took off running into the house and into his bedroom closet. There my 60 year old big-bully father hid, crouched in the closet.
Have you ever wondered what you’d do if a tornado was coming for you? What would you be thinking? Do you start praying and crying and asking God to save you in return for some vow you’ll never be able to keep? Do you sit there feeling stupid because you are way too cool to be hiding in the closet like a girl? Or, maybe you are focused on trying to protect your family who is scared to death and your attempt to calm them dilutes your own fear. But suppose you are all alone? Suppose you’ve always stood in the rain watching for those funnel clouds, probably thinking the weather man is a moron but then you hear that sound, you know, they say it sounds like a freight train coming right toward you.
In a matter of seconds the temperature grows freakishly warm and the furious rains calm. In the distance you see that perfect grey funnel cloud swirling gracefully but taking with it things that took men ages to build and nature decades to grow. If you’ve ever seen a funnel cloud on TV or watched those storm chaser documentaries, you know that they don’t move thatfast. It’s not like Freddie Kruger jumping out on you with a knife; it’s like Freddie Kruger chasing you in an open field. He can run about as fast as you can.
When my mother answered the phone at work last year during the middle of that storm, my dad said the same thing to her that he does every other time he calls her at work. “What are you doing?” in his gruff you’ve-pissed-me-off sorta voice. “I’m working, what are you doing?” she always replies. “I’m sitting in the God damn closet!”
My parents were without power for several days after that storm. And even though I’m glad that nobody was hurt, I laughed hysterically when I heard the story of my father who thinks he’s so damn cool, hiding in the closet from the tornado. I felt vindicated.