I felt Grandma shaking my shoulder, but sleep had a better hold on me.Â She persisted until my eyes opened and made contact with hers.Â â€œGet up,â€ she said. â€œWe need to go to the basement. Now.â€
A thunderstorm was growling and spitting beyond the safety of the bed blankets, and I sensed Grandmaâ€™s growing fear.Â Still groggy and coated with the deep sleep childhood innocence allows, I followed her to the narrow stairs and descended into the musty safety of her basement.Â Once there Grandma paced and looked out the small foundation window with a maddening frequency while I huddled on an old Redwing crock.
Now that Iâ€™m an adult I enjoy the onset of a summer storm.Â I like the calm before the winds pick up, I like the wall of dark clouds approaching, and I like the feel of the air after the rain passes.Â But for many of my childhood yearâ€™s storms terrified me to the point of illness. My brothers teased me, calling me names like “big baby” and Â “chicken.” Â I struggled to understand why I was so affected while they remained carefree as lightning danced and thunder shook our home.Â It took me a long time to figure out it was because I often spent the night with my grandmother, while they did not.
Iâ€™m not entirely sure why Grandma was so terrified.Â Had there been a specific incident that sparked her manic fear?Â Even during storms that seemed relatively nonthreatening sheâ€™d be restless, anxious, and wary.Â Sheâ€™d peer out various windows and tell me stories about lightning burning houses down, about how tornados would develop and kill us in our sleep, and about Godâ€™s wrath thinly disguised as punishing, deadly, rain and floods.
I had no reason to doubt her, and as the years wore on I found myself nervous and worried as dark clouds accumulated above.Â Each lightning strike caused stomach cramps, each clatter of thunder made me nauseous.Â Death was coming.Â Why were we the only two people who knew?
One night when I was perhaps nine or ten, I was at home with my brothers and my second cousin, David.Â He was about six years older than me, and I had a huge crush on him.Â Everything he did was super groovy.Â And yes, groovy was a valid word at the time.Â David was not only handsome; he played guitar in a rock band, sang lead, and rode a motorcycle.Â And at an age when he shouldnâ€™t have cared less about a bratty young cousin, he was always kind to me.
On this particular night a storm blew in, my parents were out visiting, and I began to feel sick.Â David asked what was wrong and I tried very hard to not share myâ€”I thoughtâ€”secret fear of storms. My brothers would have none of that, and started calling me an assortment of names.Â I cringed, waiting for David to join in, but he looked at me with gentle eyes.
â€œThe way I get around being scared when a storm appears is to pretend God is rearranging the furniture up in heaven. Â Or, sometimes I imagine the angels are having a bowling tournament up there.Â When one of them gets a strike, lights go off and on in celebration. Â Down here we call it lightning.â€
I adored him for trying to help me instead of mocking my very real fear.Â â€œOne more thing that works for me,â€ he said. â€œWhen my stomach gets queasy I mix a spoonful of baking soda in a cup of water.Â It doesnâ€™t taste great, but it helps.Â Do you want me to make some for you?â€Â I nodded.Â I mean, if he had offered to bring me a cup of urine I probably would have drank it. Â Such was my adulation.Â Within a short time I found I was feeling better.Â The storm raged on, but who was I to deny a heavenly bowling tournament?
The interesting thing is after that night storms began to lose their power over me.Â It wasnâ€™t immediate, but having tools to cope made a huge difference.Â I felt a measure of control for the first time.
When I had children of my own I was sensitive to how I reacted during inclement weather. Â One day, when my daughter was only four years old, she came to me with an anxious face.Â â€œMom, the television says there is a tomato warning and we should go to a shelter!â€Â I smiled.Â â€œI believe they said a tornado warning, which means a severe storm is possible.Â Have I ever told you how I like to think about stormsâ€¦â€
Thank you, David.