Douglas Adams, in a collection of his short works entitled Salmon of a Doubt, shares one hilarious experience involving his trousers at school that he labeled mind-scarring. I wish I could say I only had one terrible, mind-scarring experience, and I wish it was about something as mundane as clothing. In fact, my entire childhood was a terrible, mind-scarring experience. I don’t even know where to start, but I must start somewhere, as the purpose of writing is to heal these scars once and for all.
I grew up in Kansas. Need I say anything more about the title of this vignette? In fact, need I even write anything more? And, no I never met Dorothy or Toto, though I nearly became Dorothy, and I am convinced this ordeal contributed to the profound mental confusion I experience as an adult. In fact, tornado is exactly what my mind looks like most of the time.
We moved to Kansas when I was seven. When you go to school in Kansas, you not only have fire drills, you have tornado drills, because it is tornado season roughly between March and September (even though they have been known to strike year-round) and because tornadoes can strike anywhere at any time of the day or night and have been known to hit a few schools.
In Kansas, the public siren system is used to alert one to an incoming tornado, and they would even test these the first Wednesday of each month at some hour of the day I cannot remember (because, while I have tried to forget my past, I have only succeeded in forgetting the details).
In Maryland, by the way, the public siren system is used to alert the volunteer fire department of a fire. You can imagine my confusion when I moved here.
I remember it being a beautiful, sunny day in early May with hardly a cloud in the Caribbean blue sky. School was out for the day, it was late afternoon, and I had been playing with my two younger brothers. I also remember my father was out of town, because if he wasn't, this never would have gone down the way it did. Instead, my mother, who is half Italian and fully embraces her emotional heritage and gene pool, was alone with us when the sirens went off.
My mother immediately turned on the small, black battery-powered radio with its worn leather casing and silver knobs. The scratchy reception, occasional static and emergency broadcast din made one feel as if Earth had just been attacked by Martians, only adding to the sense of unease. I remember pacing around the basement, waiting for news on the weather and waiting for the sirens to stop, nervously glancing up at the two-foot high windows just below the ceiling and listening for the sound a of a freight train.
Well, the sirens didn’t stop. They went on and on, each wail sending my mother into a more intense round of hysterics. Soon, the radio content turned exclusively to the weather and the impending tornado or, should I say, tornadoes, as there ended up being 26 of them when all was said and done.
Now, we all know how excited meteorologists get, because I doubt there is a person reading this post who has not, at some point, turned on The Weather Channel during hurricane season or even the local news during a snow storm. So, in fairness to my kind mother, the over-excitement of the radio personalities and scouts as they screamed where the next tornado was sited and whether on the ground or in the air, only encouraged her heightened emotional state. Once the words tornado touched down and Johnson County (where we lived) were mentioned in the same sentence, the poor woman was convinced our home was the bulls-eye on the dartboard of doom.
To be continued ...