Some time ago, I received a letter from my father containing an article about a violent storm that descended on metropolitan Detroit causing major flooding and destruction with pictures of downed trees, power lines, and damaged homes; the hometown St. Clair Shores escaped major destruction. As I read memories of Midwest weather surfaced: tornadoes, thunderstorms with hail, howling winter winds, and blowing snow; Midwest weather certainly has shaped my appreciation of nature. As these recollections flooded in (pun intended) I pictured what Dad may have thought and done as this super storm passed through.
Stretched out on the sofa with a cup of hot, black coffee on the end table and a cigarette burning in an empty ashtray Dad works his daily crossword puzzle in the Detroit Free Press around 10:30 a.m.; the television is tuned to the History Channel, “where the past comes alive,” the only channel he watches. On this hot, humid July morning Dad is only wearing pants and, stuck on a particular part of the crossword, glances out the bay window to think through to a solution and notices something peculiar. Why it is getting so dark, he questions but more interested in the crossword reaches behind him and turns on a reading light. Minutes pass, now trees and bushes outside once stationary sway in the gathering wind. Finally, curiosity gets the better of him and putting down the paper walks to the bay window looks and discovers a frying pan black sky then, a brilliant flash, a crack of thunder, followed by heavy rain crashing onto and flowing down the middle of the street, a fast-moving river. Dad, mesmerized, takes a seat glad not to have any errands, recalls his South Pacific experience during World War Two and similarities: lightning is cannon fire, thunder the projectile exploding, and the sudden down pouring of rain soldiers rushing into battle. Weather associated with the severity of springtime comes to mind, as well, and how the sky turning an aqua-green, tar roof shingles on homes flap in high winds are conditions associated with tornadoes!
Michigan is not a part of Tornado Alley but does get them on a lesser scale and when the conditions are ripe the television is tuned to local news and through pre-cable interference updates scroll across the screen. Most of the time tornado watches are announced meaning conditions are good for a tornado however, if the unfavorable tornado warning is announced those in the affected area are advised to, “take immediate shelter in the event a tornado is sighted.” The warning level never happens but if it does off to the basement he and Mom would hustle Sister Linda, brothers Tad and David along with me where we huddle in the southeast corner the safest place. Even though reception worse the television is taken along for information all the while we listen for the sound of a train locomotive that would be the tornado. Fortunately, the train never comes and even though the circumstance serious excitement fills the air as this has taken the family out of the ordinary everyday stuff and for a brief moment together as one. Soon the winds subside, the skies clear, shingles returned to their normal place, and except for a few fallen tree branches and saturated grass there was no evidence of the violence that blew through. Moments later Dad and Mom watch us splash through remnants of the storm.
The raging rainstorm outside the bay window evokes past summers at the Finn Camp (a summer camp for families of Finnish descent) and the limitations of the one-room cabin families stayed in during the summer months and how the cramped quarters tested the patience of those families during summer thunderstorms. Kids tire of the poor, pre-cable TV reception, games, and staring blankly at walls listening to the heavy rainfall through the open shutters waiting for it to subside. When it does parents happily throw open the doors allowing children outside to release stored up energy much to theirs and parents relief! Late in the evening with cool and cleansed air Dad and Mom relax on the front porch, cigarette’s glow then fade into the night comfortable in knowing all are safe and fast asleep inside; neither of them talk instead listen to remnants of the storm roll off trees and smack onto the soggy ground, heaven.
The barrage now over as fast as it began, thunder distant as the storm moves out of the area clouds part and the skies brighten. In its wake tree branches liter the ground, lawns are saturated, and the river in the street is downgraded to just a trickle. Dad finishes a cigarette, stands up, lingers a moment to let the reminiscences resave then walks back to the couch, switches off the reading light, and continues the crossword puzzle as if nothing happened.
copyright jim Pykonen 2013