One night while I was searching for something interesting to watch on television, I ran across a weather documentary on the Discovery channel. It was about people who travel around the country looking for tornadoes. Once they sight one, they film it until the funnel cloud bears down on them, leaving them with only precious seconds to dive for cover. As I watched them deliberately place themselves in harm’s way, one thought kept running through my head — These people weren’t raised by my mother!
When I was a child, every year when March and April rolled around and storm season was declared official, panic season set in for Mama. She had an incredible fear of storms. Let it thunder in Nebraska and out the door she would fly, gathering her brood together like an old mother hen.
“You youngens get to the house this minute. A storm is coming!”, was a warning we knew only too well. And we knew to head for home at the first sign of a thundercloud.
As soon as we were all present and accounted for, if she didn’t drag us to a neighbor’s house (where we were just as likely to be blown away) she would herd us into a bedroom. “Stay on the bed and be quiet until the storm is over” she would order in a threatening tone. She knew that was like telling a rooster not to crow because as soon as her back was turned, we started wrestling and squealing and aggravating one another. (You don’t put four or five kids in such close proximity without expecting trouble.) But I guess she was so addled by the storm she wasn’t thinking straight.
While the storm howled outside, Mama was inside going from window to window, peeking out to see what havoc it was creating. For the life of us, we couldn’t understand why she wanted to watch something she was so scared of. But after awhile we gave up trying to figure it out and chalked it up as one of her “peculiar ways”.
She had a list of DO’s and DON’T’s as long as her arm on how we were to behave while a storm was going on. DO unplug everything electrical. DON’T get near a cat or dog – animals attract lightning. DON’T stand near an open door or window. DON’T make noise. DON’T play the piano.
Now that last one we questioned. But the only thing we came up with was that our playing was so bad, she was afraid a bolt of lightning would strike us just to shut us up. In any case, if Mama told us not to play the piano, we didn’t play the piano. We didn’t want to contrary her, especially since brilliant flashes of lightning seemed to be backing up her every word.
The best part for us was when the storm was over. When Mama was sure it had played itself out, she let us go outside and play. We loved splashing barefoot in the puddles, squeezing the soft mud through our toes, and seining for tadpoles and minnows in the little branch that ran through the yard. Sometimes we found interesting flotsam and jetsam that washed upon the bank, adding them to other treasures we had gathered over the years. Although every storm put Mama “through the wringer,” we thoroughly enjoyed the aftermath.
Years later, after we had grown up and left the nest and had children and grandchildren of our own, Mama was still playing the “mother hen.” The phone would ring and she would be on the line. “I saw on television where you had a bad storm last night. Are you all right?” she would ask.
“Yes, Mama, I’m fine,” I would tell her. Chances are I had slept through the whole thing.
As I was writing this, the phone rang. It was my neighbor calling from across the street. “I just thought I would warn you. A tornado warning has just been posted for this area. You might want to be prepared,” she said.
In a few minutes I called her back. “I’ll be right over,” I told her. Then I unplugged my computer, the TV, radio and toaster and through howling wind and pouring rain, I ran.
It was deja vu all over again.