FUN FUN FUNNEL CLOUDS! What horrible, fascinating things they are. They have been featured as a life-long recurrent nightmare for me -- always essentially the same vision, a massive looming spinning pitch-black unavoidable terror closing in. I always wake up before the thing hits, but that feeling is still there, of helplessness and hopelessness. THANKS, BRAIN! What an ass the brain is, torturing you with tornadoes in what is supposed to be a nice peaceful rest. Stupid synapses.

Growing up in Wisconsin, I had my share of tornado fun. Wisconsin has some real weather issues. I am not exactly sure why people persist in living there after a few go-rounds of said tornadoes, the cloudy oppressive humidity, and the 1/2 year long blizzard season. Perhaps it is the excellent cheese that compels folks to stay. Mmm. Cheese. Anyway. The Looming Dread of the Tornado was drilled into my kiddie head with the town siren and the BRAP BRAP BRAP! of the tv and radio Emergency Warning System. I would watch the sky for some building fluffy swirling darkness, a rotation. You knew it was really gonna be bad when the sky turned kind of a seafoam green, the air hung sick and stagnant, the birds stopped singing, and time seemed to stop. The tv would run warnings across the bottom of the screen: “MOVE IMMEDIATELY TO SHELTER.”

One night, my mother scooped me up into her arms out of my bed. In my sleepy stupor I remember her saying, “tornado…basement…” She carried me there, where my father had already taken my brother. It was noisy and windy outside, the town siren was blaring, and the basement was even more stark than usual now, cement floor and single bare lightbulb. When I awoke a little more, a horrible panic hit me: “DADDY, WHERE IS SAM?” Sam was our sweet Great Pyrenees, mainly banished to a filthy doghouse in a pen far from the house. My father insisted the dog would be OK, and I started to cry and begged him to go get him and bring him to the basement. I pleaded and pleaded, looked at my mother who could only hold me tighter with her sad face. “I’LL GO! I’LL GO!!!” I cried. I pictured Sam taking off into the sky in his doghouse ala The Wizard of Oz and never seeing him again. I thought how frightened he must be. I hoped he would escape and run over to the farm next door and hide in the barn with the cows and horses. I cried and seethed with helpless anger.

The roar. There it was. The train sound, so loud. The house shook and creaked and I imagined any second the windows would explode, timbers would fly, and we would all be blenderized. Instead, the cellar doors to the outside flew open with a tremendous metal clatter, and down the stairs came a young tree, more leaves and branches and wood pieces. I think we all screamed but I don’t remember. I just recall the shock of seeing a tree in my basement. As I processed that, I realized that the noise and the wind had stopped. After a few minutes my dad got up and made his way through the mess and the ripped-off cellar doors, and said it looked like it had passed through and was done. The siren stopped. As my mother walked us back upstairs, I wondered if the rest of the house was gone. But it was fine, just a few roof tiles knocked off, laying outside scattered on the grass as the sunrise just began to emerge. My father brought Sam, very shaky but OK, into the garage as a silent kindness to me.

I am long-removed from the Land Of Tornadoes. Somebody tell that to my stupid brain.