In 1974, I lived in Yellow Springs, Ohio, ten miles from Xenia. One of the worst tornadoes on record hit Xenia that spring. I remember only a few things about that day: hiding under a heavy blanket in my bathtub; a hail-ball the size of a softball (maybe smaller: I was a kid) that kept for a long time in my freezer; the way Xenia looked like a clearcut forest for years afterwards. Even as they recreated buildings, they couldn’t rebuilt trees.
I still live about ten miles from Xenia, a town that has traditionally been plagued by tornadoes. I’ve been processing my fear of tornadoes ever since 1974. They haunt my dreams and fiction. Last summer I wrote a poem (or something that might some day be a poem) about those springs of childhood, memories of many green skies. So, knowing there’d be “weather” tonight, upon hearing a continuous tornado warning siren, I interrupted bedtime reading to take my daughter, who hadn’t napped, down to the basement. I took the flashlight and phone, and my laptop, which is the only source of live information (live streaming TV station audio, as we don’t have cable) and explained calmly why we had to go down there, trying not to scare her. Within a few moments, she said, “I’m afraid!” She seemed to be trying on the costume of “afraid” more than feeling real fear. The storm passed (three-inch hail through Xenia, in fact) and we went back upstairs.
I imagine my fear of “weather” is something like what children of the Cold War grew up with: the duck and cover mentality. (You want to see something interesting, go here.) I need to work it out, find a way to let go of the freak-out while keeping myself and my family sanely safe. I don’t want to be alarmist about green skies. Just because I have a visceral memory of that time, I don’t want to pass it along to my daughter.