Friday, March 11, 2011

The Earthquake Touches My Memories

SLICE OF LIFE, MARCH 11, 2011

I had another topic to write, but the Japan earthquake trumps all. Lately, I’m thinking about so many things in my life that might be good for a ‘slice’ of writing that the topics whirling through are those I don’t ordinarily focus on, life’s experiences that touch on events today much of the time. Hence, the news of this earthquake in Japan carried me back to an early memory of a tornado tragically striking my neighborhood, but not my house.

I grew up in a place where springtime, while often beautiful, often meant tornadoes. Also, I am old enough to remember that in my early years, there were no tornado sirens, even special TV news alerts. We watched the sky, knowing when it turned a strange greenish color and the clouds seemed to be boiling, we’d better head for the basement. At the end of one of my middle school years, I think the last week, a terrible tornado ground its way through our city. My family was one of the few in the neighborhood that had a basement. There were twelve people crowded into that southwest corner (tornadoes moved northeast), and I can still hear my father calling out, “oh, my god, here it comes”. A neighbor joined us with her children and was crying. My aunt, who lived across the street, but also had no basement, had her eyes squeezed shut so tightly. Her children, my cousins, and my brother, seemed unaffected. So was I. It seemed silly even to crowd us into such a small space. It never occurred to me that anything bad would actually happen, so typical of the untouched adolescent.

There was a large wood behind our house, about a couple of blocks away, which had a deep ravine leading down to a creek. We kids played there often. As my father shouted, ‘here it comes’ I peeked out the window, and saw the funnel, big, dark and making the noise just as people say they do, like a freight train. The funnel hit the dip of the ravine, and headed south, missing us and the block behind our house. It moved on, tearing up other people’s houses, and a little later, my school.

All the adults spent plenty of time hugging us, saying their ‘thank gods’, and ‘we are so luckys’. We went out into the outside, saw our trees stripped of leaves, lawn chairs blown across the yard. I remember that sirens had taken the place of the freight train sound. Later that day we went to look at the destruction; my mother made sandwiches, offered other help to those who were now homeless. And of course, this went on for days. People stayed with us, we gave them things, or loaned them. My father helped with the clean up.

The funnel had cut a large swath in its travels of over a mile. There was much gathering together to help, and even more complaints that there had to be better communication of danger. That is when the alerts began to be more reliable on the radio and TV: thunderstorm warning, thunderstorm watch, tornado warning, tornado watch, etc. But it really didn’t help always; the biggest problem was no shelter, no basements. The aftermath was horrendous for many. Loss of lives and homes was devastating, and we had a big path cut through the woods that lasted for years, like what happens in avalanches in the mountains. As for me, in early adolescence, I liked the excitement and the fact that the school year had ended early. Hurrah summer. I also became an even more avid watcher of adult behavior, inwardly choosing how I might want to behave when I grew up. Those thoughts I remember so well, thinking things like “I would never do that, especially in front of my children. I would be braver.” Of course, also as an adolescent, I didn’t understand the import or possibility of disaster, and the future implications.

I am in sympathy with those at this awful time in Japan. My heart goes out to them in their loss and terrible circumstances today.

1 comment:

  1. I really enjoyed reading both the little wooden man memoir and this one as well. In each one you not only create a clear image of the moment but also the perspective of your younger self in that moment. There is something so mysterious and intangible to me about the self and time. I have always been myself, but that person is so different depending on the time and place I catch her! This terrible earthquake overshadowed my day as well. In the space exhibit at the museum the 2004 tsunami was projected on a large globe. The waves, in red, spreading out from the earthquake like giant ripples and traveling all around the world. It played over and over, four or five times while we were there and triggered my 2004 memories to start playing over and over for the rest of the day.

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