Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Tornado Warning

[We're home. I can happily say that many drought-ridden areas of our nation got some much needed rain, thanks to the passing through of the Whippet Wagon. I was afraid that buying new windshield wiper blades would deprive folks of precipitation, but I feared for naught. It started raining soon after we got on the road and hasn't stopped. All the way back, listening to Public Radio stories on the historical proportions of the drought - the worst on record for many locations, and according to tree ring data, the worst in over five hundred years - I took pleasure in knowing that where the Whippet Wagon goes, rain goes. I do want it to be known that I have not been to New Orleans or to the state of Louisiana since 1963. Just so's you know. I should really pack up and head out to poor California.
Since you had to suffer through the inane journalistic road mumblings I offer the following in atonement.]

Tornado Warning

Paducah resides smack in the middle of the Dixie Alley portion of Tornado Alley. The Dixie Alley is where the most deaths from tornadoes occur, due to population density. It was a concern when we moved here, along with the fact that it sits on a major fault line and there's that pesky nuclear plant just next door. But back in Maryland, we had the highest cancer rate in the nation, and Three Mile Island, and the occasional hurricane, so there you go.

When I first moved here, I was alone with the nine whippets. Sam I Am was the baby of the family then, just three months old, but Queen Gracious and Caruso bless their dear souls were still with us and ably leading the Pack. Bill was wrapping up his medical practice back in Maryland, and the rehab on the Paducah house wasn't finished, so the dogs and I were all living in the addition which housed Bill's brand new studio and gallery. Before it actually was a studio and gallery. I bathed in the utility sink. The bathroom didn't have a light yet, and its door didn't have a knob, so I stuck a flashlight in the doorknob hole, providing both light and privacy. The light sort of acted like a blinding spotlight as I sat contemplating life, but it was better than sitting in the dark. A little better.

Instead of drawing tables and easels, imagine a mattress on the floor and eight crates, two fold up fabric chairs and numerous dog beds.

There was no fence, so no yard yet. My dogs were accustomed to their two acres of fenced squirrel-murdering, sun-bathing, tag-playing fun back at the farm in Maryland. I felt guilty of being the Worst Servant in the World. If there was a Worst Servant in the World degree, I would have earned a Masters. So I walked them, three at a time, three times a day. Nine half-hour walks. People thought I was walking the same three skinny dogs for hours. No wonder they were so skinny, they thought. I quickly became the new neighborhood nut. And with the dogs not yet knowing about being quiet city dogs, and setting off the Stupid City Squirrel Alarm constantly and at the top of their lungs, it wasn't like we weren't noticed.

It was not the happiest of times.

So we were innocently sitting around on a Saturday at one o'clock, minding our own depression, wishing we had a phone or a computer or a friend when it happened. The Loudest Siren In the World. It was an air raid siren. The dogs shook their heads, trying to avoid pierced eardrums. I said "Oh! Um. Oh my! What do I do?" Was there a nuclear accident? A tornado? Oh that had to be it a tornado was coming we would all die and be calm, be calm the radio listen to the radio. I didn't have a TV yet, and my radio was already turned to WKMS. But they were playing bluegrass music just as happy as a hog in horseshit and no help at all. Where was the "This Is Not A TEST" emergency broadcast system when you needed it? (More on that later.) I ran out in the street. I seemed to be the only one in the neighborhood who was running in little circles in panic. People were walking on the sidewalks, driving around, and riding bikes in blissful oblivion. And the siren was just a'blasting. The dogs inside were in full howl, singing along to spare their ears.

I stood on the corner by the stop sign, and mustered my courage. I waved at the next car, whose driver kindly lowered the passenger side window.
"Is there a tornado coming?" I asked.
"Huh?" said the driver. (My accent was difficult for the locals to decipher.)
"The siren! Should I get in the closet? Are you evacuating?"
"Whut saaaaren?"
"Um... the one I'm shouting over. What does it mean?"
"Oh! Thayat! Shoot Ah don't even hear it any mowure. They jest tayest hit on the furst Satiday of the month."
"Oh, it IS just a test. Oh, what a relief. Thank you. Thank you so much."
"No one pays any attention to thayat even when it is real. We don't get any tornadoes in town cause of the rivers, and if it's the Nuclear Plant, oh wayell, whatcha goin' to do? Hayell, we'll all be toast anywaay. You have a good day nayow."

OK. So. The siren goes off the first Saturday of every month, and nowadays I don't hear it either. Another thing that took some getting used to is the Emergency Alert. It's that annoying signal that plays on radio station, followed by, "The preceding was a test of the Emergency Broadcast System. This was only at test. In the event of an actual emergency... blah, blah, blah." Only here, it is often the Real Deal. Tornado Ally and all. That gave me some cause for concern. And the first time that the radio was playing the Emergency Alert and the Siren From Hayell went off at the same time, I ran and checked out the TV. (By that time Bill was here and the house rehab was finished.) But the weather map showed the tornadoes splitting to the north and the south of Paducah, bouncing off the electrical field caused by the confluence of the Ohio, Tennessee, and Mississippi Rivers. So I learned to ignore all of the warnings, just like my neighbors. Until.

Until one night when Bill was away on yet another trip back home. The Siren and the Emergency Alert were going off, and the radio announcer sounded pretty concerned. He kept saying, "This is a bad one, folks. This time you really need to seek shelter." So I turned on the TV. We have a Weather Child. She looks to be about twelve. She's quite the professional, and she does a great job, despite her youthful appearance. The station had preempted the regular programming and was showing only the Weather Child, who was declaring the serious dangers of this storm, while pointing at her map. She kept pointing right at Paducah.

I had been in the TV news studio, having once been an early morning guest promoting the Paducah Kennel Club show. The Weather Child's voice climbed a notch. "You should no longer be watching your television, unless it is in a basement or in a closet on the first floor of your home. You should turn off your television and seek shelter immediately." Hmmmm. That was unusual. TV personalities getting lots of attention don't often tell you to turn off your TV. She kept glancing off camera to the side. I wondered what she was looking at. The window. I remembered that the studio had a window to the Weather Garden, and that would be what she was looking at. "Really," the Weather Child's voice was now downright squeaky with terror, "Terrible tornadoes are bearing right down on Paducah as ..." She cast a frightened, uncontrollable look at the Weather Window. "As we speak. Run to the basement. Run for your life! GET DOWN!"

She looked so small and frightened. And serious. She looked like she wished she could be in a basement. The Siren from Hayell was blaring. The Emergency Alert was going crazy. There was no one on the streets, not a living soul. The sky was an eerie black purple bruise. It wasn't raining, but I realized there was not a bird to be seen or heard. I was not going in our scary basement. When we bought the house, it had a demolition notice nailed to the front plywood. (There was no front door.) And in the dining room there was a six by eight foot hole in the floor, open to the basement which had four feet of water and two dead possums floating in it. I was not going in that basement.

So I decided on the coat closet. It was under the staircase on the ground floor, which I imagined gave it more stability. It was full of stuff. Bill and I are pack rats; there it is and that's that. I pulled out twenty coats, boots from the farm, boxes of treasures - Lord knows what, and the rack of leaves for the dining room table. I said to the dogs, "Let's go in the closet!"
The waggle was eightfold at that time. Lindy Loo and Swede William had not been born and Lindy's great grandfather Dear Caruso was still with us. The dogs looked at me and looked at the closet. Their answer was unanimous. "No." I ran upstairs and checked back with the Weather Child. Her voice was two octaves above her normal, and the whites of her eyes completely surrounded her frightened irises, and her hair was defying its products and flying wildly. "TAKE COVER! IT'S COMING! GOD SAVE US ALL!"

Right. I grabbed two quilts from the bedroom and flew back down the stairs. I spread the quilts on the coat closet floor. I grabbed a land phone and my cell phone and a box of dog biscuits. In my no-nonsense, I-mean-business voice I told the dogs to get in the closet with me. They immediately obeyed my strict command (as soon as they realized I had a whole box of their favorite treats) and we all piled in the coat closet. We just barely fit. Biscuits all around.

I want you to engage your very best imagination, kind readers. Try to visualise this scene. Eight dogs, cramped into a coat closet with their Humble Servant. Sixteen big, brown eyes focused on the face of their up to then fairly reliable Human Being. Sixteen eyes saying, "What are we doing in the coat closet? How long are we going to be in here? Perhaps it is time for another round of biscuits, don't you think?"

And then the hail came. Huge hail easily the size of golf balls pelted the windows. I was sure they would break. And the wind roared. I passed out biscuits. Some of the dogs started to tremble. The noise was deafening. The hail blocked out the Siren from Haayell. I held the closet door shut as if I could manually keep us safe. The dogs stared at me, not liking my new Go In the Closet Game one bit. It was much too loud.

It was done after what seemed like a week, but was less than five minutes. Tornadoes had hit just north, east, west and south of us, but bounced off the rivers once again. Hundreds of cars had been damaged by the hail, and trees were down all over the place. We crawled out of the coat closet, and the dogs checked out the hail on the ground. We called Bill to tell him what had happened and that we were OK.

Now any time I have to get something out of the coat closet a dog jumps in, looking for a biscuit. I still don't pay attention to the Siren. But I check out the Weather Child and if I ever see her look that scared, you better believe that the Husband, the Waggle and I are heading for the closet.



  1. That sounds utterly terrifying, although I know I'd feel better with the pack crowded in close like that. It's good to hear that everything turned out all right!!

  2. I know exactly how you felt! I moved to the St. Louis area from the Northwest. The only thing I'd been taught about sirens and/or tornados was to get under a desk. Obviously from grade school. I had not received any updates on tornado protocol.

    Fast forward many years to my first storm in St. Louis. I thought the sky was falling down! Then the siren went off and I promply and firmly placed myself under my desk. At work. You can only imagine the laughter that erupted after asking what I was doing. It was quite some time before anyone was able to work.

    Now when the weather gets bad and the sky turns greenish (we do have tornados in this area) I grab leashes since my dogs don't mind me quite as well as yours mind you, and we head to the basement. All has been well so far...

  3. Glad to know that you made it home safely with your waggle. I also need to apologize to you for the beating that you received the other night, I had no idea about the cortisone shots. Oh, well, justice was served with the beating that I got! Simply, it had to be beginners luck. But, thanks to you I got the bug the other night and played 6 games with the husband! He really smoked me in one game by rolling 3, yes, THREE, yahtzees in ONE, yes, 1 game. It sucked! Looking forward to more good times with such wonderful neighbors. The Lady 2 Doors Down

  4. Oh Dear...Mumsie here. (Lacie & Scruff having had NO experience with closets.) We lived in NC when Hugo came through. My kids were 3 and 6. Husband is also a doc. Woke him up at 2AM after hearing the "this ain't no drill" thingy on the radio just before the power got knocked out. He had NO interest in getting outta bed since he'd just been on call the night before. We dragged children in question to first floor and tossed them in the coat closet not even waking them up. Then proceeded to sit in the family room and watch the electric transformers blow up...just like fireworks. Heard older child say to younger.."Got any idea why they might have stuffed us in the closet??" Power was out for a week. One neighbor got so desperate for hot coffee, he blow torched it. Had a great neighborhood party BBQing ALL the meat in the neighborhood before it spoiled. Man....


  5. Just read through a good chunk of ur prior posts. Your writing is hilarious...like really hilarious. How did you end up with 9 dogs...didn't go back that far in the posts. And how whippets?? Your dogs are adorable! Are they coming to the Birthday Pawty in Mass ACHOO Sit!s this weekend?? See our blog; and no they don't need to costume up. Is dog blogging not another world?? Either that or we're all psychotic.


  6. Absolutely fantasic! I can just picture those eyes. I am sure it was very scary at the time but you couldn't have wished for better company. Lovely, lovely dogs!

    KIsses all over beautiful faces from a stranger............xxxxxx

  7. I remember that period when you were in Paducah & Bill was still in Maryland. I remember the increasingly bizarre emails and wondering if there was good psychiatric help in Paducah. And worrying. I'm glad you made it through :)

    We lived in Kansas for six years prior to moving to Virginia. I learned the names of the surrounding counties (as they tend to tell you by county, which is no help when you don't know what they are - and Kansas has 105 of them!) and hoped for the best. In all that time we only had one tornado close enough to make us consider dropping the 4' into our cellar however at the time I was 8 months and 3 weeks pregnant and Darren was on crutches with a broken ankle. So we went to a friend's house instead. There was a tornado about five miles south of town, but it didn't get any closer.


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