I’m a weather worrywart.
And experiencing my first Lowcountry hurricane season has only exacerbated my angst. As I write this, the specter of Hurricane Ophelia looms off the Carolina coast, the cataclysm caused by Hurricane Katrina still dominates the news, and my old weather willies are back with a vengeance.
My fear of bad weather was born during my childhood on the Southern Minnesota prairie, where tornados and blizzards are facts of life. Its huge horizon is your oracle and when the skies boil purple and black, bad things happen.
I suppose the origin of this dread can be traced to my “Pinocchio” period at age 6, when I drove my family nuts playing and replaying my favorite Disney record.
I’ve got no stringsTo hold me downTo make me fret, or make me frownI had stringsBut now I’m freeThere are no strings on me
Hi-ho the me-ri-oThat’s the only way to goI want the world to knowNothing ever worries me
One July Saturday afternoon, my family was going to town for groceries. I lobbied to stay home on the farm to revel in my new record without being tormented by my Disney-fatigued older brothers. To my delight, they agreed I could remain behind and piled into the pink-and-white Dodge. As they rolled down the long driveway, trailing wisps of gravel dust, I skipped to the record player and turned it on.
All was well as I sprawled on the living room floor listening over and over to the tale of the puppet/boy, whose nose grew every time he lied. But I began to notice that the afternoon sunlight bouncing off the carpet was vanishing, and I got up and looked out of the kitchen window.
My stomach knotted when I saw the beautiful sunshine being swallowed by a massive black storm wall that towered thousands of feet into the sky. I immediately flashed on Dorothy in “The Wizard of Oz,” the movie that has scarred generations of cyclone-phobic kids. Watching Dorothy and Toto spin skyward in their storm-tossed house is a tornado fright flick of the first magnitude.
The house got darker as the clouds loomed closer and I raced through the house, shutting windows and turning on lights. The record player was blaring “Whistle While You Work” and its cheery tone suddenly sounded inappropriate.
Flipping through the family records, I found an album of hymns and put it on the turntable. Then, with “The Old Rugged Cross” blaring, I posted myself at a window and watched a white wall of wind-driven rain rake across our cornfield. Flashes of lightning, accompanied by booming peals of thunder, jolted me from my post and I retreated to the middle of the room and began singing.
So I’ll cherish the old rugged cross,’Til my trophies at last I lay down;I will cling to the old rugged cross,And exchange it some day for a crown.
I’d seen the black-and-white TV images of injured and dead victims in tornado-ravaged Oklahoma towns and suddenly began thinking of my own demise. I crouched by the record player and wailed the lyrics that would be a final anthem to my young, tragically short life.
But a funnel cloud didn’t swoop from the heavens. Instead, I noticed the skies were brightening and the wind was dying down. I worked up the nerve to go the window again and was overjoyed to see shafts of bright sunlight from behind the clouds and the headlights of the family car coming up the driveway. I’d survived!
Now the dolorous hymns suddenly sounded out of place and I quickly replaced it with, you guessed it, Pinocchio.
I could hear the crackling sound of grocery bags as the family walked into the house with a week’s worth of staples. My mother walked into the living room where I was sitting on the sofa, cheerfully singing along to “Hi-Diddle-Dee Dee.”
“That was quite a storm,” she said. “Were you scared to be home alone?”
“Nah,” I smiled. Then I felt a sharp tingling at the tip of my nose and added, “Well, maybe a little.”