One day last week, the clouds piled up and the sky turned black. It happened in the middle of the day, but it was so dark outside that you would have thought it was late in the evening. Sheets of rain fell heavily from the sky. The storm moved through quickly, but somewhere near the end of it we were all evacuated to the nearest storm shelter to wait out the tail end of it. This is probably the second time I have had to go wait out a storm in the shelter since I have moved here. One of my colleagues is a fellow Okie. When the alarms sounded, we both looked out the windows. Then we looked at each other and rolled our eyes at being sent to the storm shelters when we both knew there was no tornado coming our way. We sat in the storm shelter, which is just the stairwell, with our coworkers for five or ten minutes. Long enough for someone to take a group photo of us all in the stairwell.
The storm and having to seek shelter was all the talk the next day. Everyone had a story of their afternoons spent in the basement. My friend/yoga teacher/plant goddess, Kelly told us all before class about shoving her two large cats into one small pet carrier and taking them down to her basement. She looked at me then and said something about all of this is probably not being a big deal for me. I shrugged my shoulders and said "not really." Then I confessed that I never once lived in a house in Oklahoma that had any sort of safe room or storm shelter. I told her how every time the tornado sirens went off, which was pretty often, Chris and I would just look at each other and shrug. It became a joke. There are pictures of me and Hooper sitting in closet with clothes piled all around us or sitting in the bathtub together. I'm wearing my scooter helmet in all of these pictures. I also told Kelly about the time my family rode out a tornado in our camp trailer.
Living smack down in the middle of the tornado alley is a whole lot different from living way out on the edge of that alley. I realized I had gotten used tornado sirens being tested on the first Wednesday of every month when we were standing in a Walmart in Guyman Oklahoma at noon on a Saturday. I froze in front of a rack of children's purses and told Michael to stop talking. Then he heard the sirens too. I looked over at an employee and asked her what day it was. She looked at me like oddly and said "It's Saturday." I replied "that's right, it's Saturday and it's noon." I turned to Michael and told him that they test the sirens every Saturday at noon. Then he looked at me and said "really?" I said "Yup. Every Saturday. At noon." That should give you some scale about the number of tornados that run down the center of that alley versus the number of tornados that fall off into the margins.
Tornados are just a way of life in Oklahoma. I remember Chris saying once that he thought it was just the normal activity of the evenings to go hang out in the storm shelter when he was a kid living in a trailer park in Altus. That's just what they did as a family in the summer evenings. The sirens go off and we make a pot of coffee so we can stand outside with a cup of joe while we watch the skies. We may or may not stand in the bathtub. It depends on how the sky looks. Here, actual tornadoes are rare and any could be maybe looking cloud freaks people out. They go straight to their storm shelters or basements without one glance at the sky. It could be said that a seasoned Okie such as myself is a little bit lackadaisical when it comes to weather. I will admit that I can go for days without checking the weather report before I scoot out to work. I will admit that I have often gotten caught in the rain. A lot more so than when I lived in Oklahoma. There is something to be said about having some caution.
That doesn't mean that I will not immediately go look out the windows whenever the tornado sirens go off.