, , , , ,

Gill and I have certain traditions when we are together during the summer holidays. Foremost among them is the ‘Playing Tornado’ game.For those of you not familiar with this quirky exercise, I’ll explain.

It all began many years ago when a tornado came through our city and in fact, came right down our street — taking with it several trees, roofs, and the chimney in the house directly behind us. I recall waking up during the night, hearing the infamous ‘train noise’  and feeling a suction go through my bedroom as the twister was passing by our house. It was terrifying but fortunately, we sustained no damage…except to my nerves.

Ever since that night, I have been, how shall I put it? A titch paranoid doesn’t begin to cut it. ‘Scared shitless’ might come close.

Gill used to scoff at me. Let her scoff. At any rate, I still keep a laundry basket full of important things like my passport, purse with credit cards, driver’s license and health card, bank account numbers, a bottle of wine, a few precious pictures, family documents, my favorite fabulous shoes, extra supply of makeup (at this age I don’t want to scare the neighbors by presenting myself au naturel), and my meds (especially any valium I may have stashed away) to be rushed to the cold cellar should a tornado threaten. You know, my necessities. I assemble this kit in April and keep it in play until late September.

The only issue is that my pet birds, all 8 of them, can’t fit into the laundry basket. Well, they could, but there would be a lot of squawking and ruffled feathers…not to mention beaks out of joint. As for Mrs. Beeton, my pink, very discerning and critical parakeet, she would not deign to be seen in a laundry basket…so beneath her. So she has to descend to the lower regions of the house in her palatial cage. I might note in passing that it is so heavy and cumbersome I can barely lift it. She doesn’t seem to notice that I struggle with it — I am her lackey,  worthy only to do her bidding. If I trip on the steps, she’d be the last one to offer sympathy — even though I’m trying to save her life.

This particular night, I didn’t actually want to take her to the cool basement since she was still wet from having a bath in her house on the deck. She does so love a shower in the rain! And she barely registered the cracks of thunder overhead. Gill and I were a bit nervous that her house might be hit by lightening, but she was close to the open door so we could grab her if things took a turn. That’s our story and we’re sticking to it.

There was a time a few years ago when I actually had 15 birds. In order to get them all safely to the basement in time, I had to study the weather forecasts each day from the early morning hours. I needed a lot of ‘lead time’ to get everyone below decks. Do you have any idea how complicated it is to get 15 bird cages –and then a dog  ensconced in a cold cellar? It is not a task for the faint of heart. Then, when I sat there on my solitary chair, huddled in a blanket, possibly sipping some medicinal wine, I watched as first the dog and then even the canaries started going a bit feral. If not feral, at least batty. Apparently they don’t like being confined in a dank, dark scary cellar. Well, neither did I…  but it beat the alternative.

During Gill’s visit this year, I was watching television at night when the t.v. began to emit a terrible noise accompanied by a red banner crawling across the screen that warned of  a possible tornado sighting and a watch. I raced out of my room, yelling at Gill:”Batten down the hatches! We’re playing Tornado. Ho to the basement!”

She looked at me. “Really?” she said sarcastically. “It looks fine outside. Let me check the weather report online. We don’t want to hide in the basement unless we have to.”

She discovered from her research that there was a slight possibility of something happening but we weren’t in immediate or dire danger.

“Just for clarity’s sake, Ma, since I haven’t played tornado with you in a couple of years, how do we do this? Do you still take ALL of the canaries to the cellar? That’s an awful lot of cages…or do you make a Sophie’s Choice kind of decision?” She grimaced at the possibility.

“Well,” I admitted sheepishly in whispers, “Obviously Mrs. Beeton gets pride of place. After that, I’d probably take Dad (our oldest canary) since he has struggled so to stay alive. Given his stature as ‘the original papa’ of them all, and the fact that he so obviously fights The Grim Reaper, I’d give him the pity vote and take him. After that, I’d take L’il Sis’s birds since  it wouldn’t be very nice for her to have brought them to me to look after only to have them sacrificed for convenience. I’m not THAT heartless a mother. The others, I’m afraid, might not make the cut. It’s horrible but if it means we might not make it to the cellar because we’re trying to save a few octogenarian birds, so be it.Think Darwin…”

At this point, I had drunk a few glasses of wine with dinner and was in my snappy bedtime attire — a t-shirt, underwear and running shoes (no socks). Gill had just had some of her ‘special medicine’ and could barely feel her feet, so neither of us were in great shape to be playing dodge the tornado.

We watched the sky for a while and determined (with our great powers of prediction) that the weather people were being scare mongers and we went back to what we were doing before. In my case, this was watching television. But I couldn’t since the awful emergency noise kept going off every few minutes as the red line scrolled across the screen. I finally gave up and read a book, lamenting the fact that our glory days of playing tornado were likely behind us. It just wasn’t as much fun or as dramatic as I remember it being. It still beats Scrabble. But there’s still hope for Gill’s summer visit next year…