Wednesday, February 6, 2008

They still scare my socks off

When I was a little kid, we lived right outside of Dallas. Tornadoes were a big concern for us come springtime -- we were put under tornado watches and warnings pretty often, and we knew several people at church who had lost their homes to tornadoes.

The scariest tornado experience that Mom and I ever had scared each of us for very different reasons. We were in Dallas proper, listening to the weather report while driving home, when the tornado sirens went off. Everybody knows that when you hear the sirens go off, you get the hell off the road. But we got stuck with a flat tire and nowhere to go, and since cell phones didn't exist back then, we had no way to call for help (and besides, who would we have called?) Mom managed to park the car in a nearby parking lot, and then we got out and walked to the neighboring bus stop.

Meanwhile, my seven-year-old self was freaking out about the tornado siren -- I knew that the safest place to be was inside an interior bathroom, in the bathtub with blankets and a mattress over you. But there we were, standing around in the middle of the street in Dallas.

Shortly thereafter, a bus pulled up and a young, rough-looking man got off. Mom went up to him and said, "I'll give you twenty dollars to change my tire." He agreed, followed us back to the parking lot, and proceeded to change the tire. Once he was done, Mom thanked and paid him, and then we got back in the car and finished driving home.

Me -- still freaked out because the tornado sirens were still going off. Mom -- freaked out because she saw the knives in the young man's waistband when he bent over to work on the tire.

When I was 12 we moved south of Tornado Alley, so the school drills and radio reports and sirens all faded away into the murky depths of memory. Then I moved to New England for college, and while we had an earthquake one night at school, we never had to worry about tornadoes.

Then I moved to France for a year when I was 19. I had just finished a very culturally eye-opening physical at the doctor's along with two other friends, and we were walking back to the university campus. Suddenly, a tornado siren went off. "C'mon, we have to get inside!" I hollered at the others, sprinting for the nearest building.

"Um, Kitty? What are you doing?" they asked.
"That's a tornado siren! Hurry up!" I said.
"No, it isn't. It's the German Invasion Siren."
"The what?!"

Apparently Poitiers installed a siren system after WWI (I think?) Its purpose was to warn the city of a German invasion should one occur. Even though there's no longer a threat of a potential invasion by the Germans, the siren is still tested every first Wednesday of the month at noon for ten minutes. Ten very loud, very frightening minutes.

Fast forward to today... I woke up to news of tornadoes tearing through several states in the South yesterday evening. I was downtown this afternoon, waiting to catch a bus back home, when a tornado-like siren went off.

Yep. Even today, those sirens still scare my socks off.

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