childhood encounter with weather (no. 1)


Jeff and me in middle school…around the time of the following weather encounter.

I am sure that we should not be home alone. I do not know what my parents were thinking to leave us home alone. It is true that I babysit almost every weekend, and Jeff is on his way to earning an Eagle Scout recognition.  Yet, it is stormy. It is dark. The old farm house creaks and the wind howls…or maybe it is coyotes howling…most likely it is werewolves howling.

I am old enough to know that werewolves do not exist. 

The TV is not a distraction from reality because the National Weather Service is beeping announcements across the bottom of the screen. There is a tornado warning. 

“A tornado is coming!” I scream.

Jeff shrugs and puts a handful of popcorn in his mouth. He doesn’t share my concern. “Just because there’s a warning, doesn’t mean a tornado is going to be at our house,” he says.

I turn off the TV and open the curtains of the giant picture window. It takes up the entire wall. The rain pings and pelts against it. Lightening bolts across the black sky and the trees cast eerie shadows on our faces. I pull the blanket up to my chin. Jeff eats more popcorn. 

Lightening flashes and thunder cracks. The wind squeals and shutters rattle. Jeff pulls his blanket up to his chin.

We watch the storm in the dark living room, in the dark house. The house groans and the wind haunts us. Our eyes grow wide and our hearts pound. I might be scared. I am definitely mad that we are home alone.

Lights shine in the window as a car slows and turns into the driveway. We stay frozen with blankets securely stretched from under our toes up to our chins. 

The door opens and we hear howls. This might be the moment we are eaten by the werewolves. The rain is slashing hard, and I am sure that rain can crack a window.

My mom’s heels clack through the kitchen and are muffled by the carpet. We smell her flower-powder perfume before we see her. “What is going on here?” she asks.

I glare and know that I am being ridiculous. “There’s a tornado coming,” I say, “And you left us here alone to die.”

Dad walks into the room, “Hi guys!” he says. It is too cheerful for the whipping wind, the rain spikes shooting at the window, and the impending doom.

“Ruthie is worried that a tornado is going to hit our house,” Jeff says. His arms are free and he is eating popcorn again.

“I don’t know why you left us home alone!” I shout.

Mom closes the curtains. Dad sits next to Jeff and takes a handful of popcorn. 

“If you were scared, I don’t know why you’d open the window and watch the storm,” Mom says. She unbuckles her shoes and slips them off. 

“Whatever,” I say.

In Handling the Truth, Beth Kephart shares a writing challenge she gives her college students. She plays music by Astor Piazzolla and invites them to remember a childhood encounter with weather. It is a moment evoked by the Piazzolla song. I decided to accept the challenge, played Piazzolla, and discovered this moment hidden in my memories.

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  1. Love this. So much is infused in your words. And your mom’s comment about watching the storm. So true on both sides — not the best idea to watch the storm, and yet sometimes we can’t look away, or feel like we can’t. Always trying to find the balance between acknowledging the storm, and the safety as well.

  2. This is such a fun challenge! I could empathize so much with you in this piece–that fear and the storm, and being unable to tear your eyes away.

  3. Childhood senses and now the use of dialogue–2 items I continue not to use in my writing! I’m full of thoughts but need more dialogue for sure. You’re just full of teaching moments, Ruth! Glad you noted that playing music (Kephart) would create so much more recollection. Why am I taking notes as I read your posts? Love, love, love your photo of you and Jeff!! I can hear your voice at “A tornado is coming!” Opening the window curtain certainly is you, Ruth, too! “It was a dark and stormy night” moment and you had to embellish it!

  4. Oh, and look at all those handmade items around you–comfy, safe and cozy are we!!! Mom and Dad were just as worried as the two of you!