This Side of the Pond – July 4

By Sarah Pridgeon

While the wind whipped across the county last weekend and hail pounded the landscape, I was busy going down in family history for uttering the stupidest sentence of all time. Let’s just say that it’s as well we weren’t really standing in the path of a twister.
It was the weekend of the not-a-tornado, the mythical event that, even now, I’ve failed to confirm actually happened. That Saturday afternoon, I was perched at a computer desk in my house clothes, working on a particularly tricky piece of writing.
And by house clothes, I do of course mean my pajamas, because I’ve found through years of research that nothing contributes to one’s personal productivity quite so much as the elasticated freedom of a pair of plaid pajama bottoms. I had no plans to leave the premises until my work was done so, I’d thought to myself that morning, why not stay comfortable while I toiled?
I was also denying myself access to the internet and television, because the power of the pajama would have been negated by their temptations. Consequently, my first indication that the sun was not a permanent fixture in the day’s sky was the arrival of my father-in-law and two extra dogs.
The week before the not-a-tornado, we had been dog-sitting my sister-in-law’s two boxers. One of them is a gentle soul with a constant snuffle in her nose and the other a boisterous puppy less than six months old, who has yet to fully work out what his feet are for.
Dad-in-Law needed me to watch the pair of them while he ran up to Grandma’s house. She needed help because a storm was on the way, he said, and leaving all the dogs in one living room is a bit much for the ornaments to cope with.
No problem, I said, and returned to my work, three dogs now curled up by my feet. It was several minutes before I realized that it was too dark to read the words on the piece of paper in front of me.
At this point in my story, I am aware that many of you will be judging my transgressions on a number of important levels, the most obvious being that I worked on a weekend and failed to wear decent clothing while doing so. Unfortunately, the worst is yet to come.
As I sat blinking in the sudden darkness, Dad-in-Law reappeared at the door. Calmly and quietly, he told me that some bad weather was heading our way, including a potential tornado, and it would be best if we all headed to town to shelter in the basement of our gallery.
And then came the moment that will forever define my role within this family. I considered his words only briefly before replying, “Have I got time for a shower before we leave?”
Dad-in-Law regarded me with the sort of benevolent patience that tells you exactly how stupid you have just been. “No,” he said. “I think we’ll just go right now.”
Something clicked in my city-girl brain and I was finally galvanized into action. Outside the door, a serene, sunny afternoon turned almost instantly into a windswept panic of giant hailstones and pouring rain.
Even then, Dad-in-Law was forced to come back for me once he had loaded the canine convoy into the car. I was trotting in circles around the apartment, still in my pajamas, switching things off and collecting items of clothing for later use. I have no idea what good I thought it would do to turn the television off if there was a tornado heading towards it, but it seemed sensible at the time.
I was also worrying about the cat, who doesn’t travel well at the best of times and was suffering a poorly tummy from digging for treats in the trash. Still in a daze of disbelief and not convinced this could possibly be a proper crisis, I opted to leave her sleeping on top of the bookcase.
We roared up the road to Grandma’s house and loaded her in alongside the dogs, all five of whom were trying very hard to sit on my lap in the mistaken belief I was capable of providing safety. The puppy topped the pile, a contorted mess of limbs with his nose pressed up against the roof.
We shouted reassurances at one another while we headed down the canyon, struggling to be heard over the cacophony of hail. My husband, who was as unflustered as his father thanks to years of experience with potential emergencies, greeted us at the door as we herded the car’s canine contents towards the basement stairs. “Did you bring the camera?” he asked, earning himself a scowl.
And then it was over. Thanks to my dithering, we would have arrived at our safe location with no more than two minutes to spare if the not-a-tornado had been following its own schedule.
I just had time to empty the puddle of rainwater out of my shoes before we were bundled back in the car and taken home. We’re calling it the Official Family Tornado Drill and I have been given a list of points on which I must do better next time.
In my defense on the showering issue, Dad-in-Law is a firefighter and fully capable of handling a disaster without a speck of panic or fuss. He also delivered several sentences of explanatory information before landing on the word “tornado,” lulling me into a very false sense of security.
Even so, I dread to think what might have befallen me had I been left to my own devices and climbed sedately into the shower cubicle instead of escaping from a tornado’s path. I suppose I would at least have been fresh as a daisy when I landed in Oz.