Gary Perkins survived the 1974 Xenia tornado by hiding under a desk.

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.

But how?

4 thoughts on “Fear

  1. Rebecca, my memories of that terrible day in 1974 scarred me as well. I lived in Miamisburg then, and can remember that day top to bottom as though it all occurred yesterday.

    I also remember getting the next Sunday’s paper, which listed the names of the people killed in Xenia and told stories about their lives and what they were doing when the tornado hit. Those people looked like me and people I knew.

    I realized a disaster like that can happen to anybody.

    For many years after that, whenever the sky turned green or the NWS issued a tornado warning, I basically panicked. I didn’t go a good job of not passing this on to my daughter, Lauren. When she was three, she ran around the baby sitter’s house yelling, “It’s a benado attack! It’s a benado attack!” Poor kid!

    However, Lauren now has a different view. Somehow she’s gotten over my bad parenting, and she’s raising her kid to feel strong and secure.

    So, even if we mess up, there’s still hope. :)

    Thanks for your post!

  2. Lisa, thanks: you give me hope! Last night, Merida slipped and said “tomato” instead of “tornado” so that puts things in perspective. And when I can be sort of unattached and philosophical about it, I know that we have no idea how much time we have left, any of us, so we better focus on the present. Still, hard to practice.

  3. Having lived through the Wichita Falls tornado in 1979, I don’t think you’re overreacting. It is very reasonable to head for the basement during a tornado warning, and a green sky still scares the bejesus out of me.
    And given the wild weather we’ve had this spring, and the likelihood that we’ll see more and more of it with climate change, learning a healthy respect for tornadoes is not a bad thing.

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