Some misadventures in non-fiction

I’m going to just go ahead and say this week’s post will be delayed, because it evolved into something bigger than it should have.

Oh, and I worked twenty-three and a half hours between yesterday and today, and I’m also in the process of celebrating not dying or killing anybody by drinking half a bottle of wine.  Yes, you read that right.  Half a bottle.  No, this isn’t a regular thing.  In my defense, it’s Moscato, which I’m told is Italian for “liquid candy that produces great happiness” and not “wine you should be enjoying in moderation.”  So at least I have that going for me at this point in time.

Speaking of time, and not in the Doctor Who sense (well, maybe a little), tonight marks the fifteenth anniversary of the tornado that hit Mount Washington* (located in scenic Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, where I have lived all my life in some capacity or another).  To commemorate that, I will share the story of how my grandmother nearly died in the previously mentioned tornado, and how my stepfather and I made the remarkably bad decision to try driving to the site of a major storm to pick up my grandma and great aunt.

My Grandma Betty was very fond of watching storms.  When she lived at her house in Mount Washington, she would sit out on her porch to enjoy them.  Later in life, when she had moved in with my mom, stepdad, sister, and me, she continued this tradition via the two skylights in her bedroom, an entire section of the house we had added on for her.  Today, fifteen years ago, my grandmother sat out on her porch with a paper plate loaded with Lay’s Classic Potato Chips.  And she watched.  Eventually, or so say some of her neighbors who had looked out, the chips started swirling around in a circle on the plate.  The winds were getting worse, and the rain was coming down quite heavily, so my grandmother made her way to the front door.  She pulled the screen door open, only to have it slammed shut by the gale force winds.  She tried a second time, only to be met with the same results.  Finally, I’m told, she braced herself between the screen door and the larger, heavier storm door, got it opened, and made her way inside.

The porch roof dipped, collapsing completely on the one side moments later.  I still get chills thinking about that now.  She retrieved my great aunt Renee and went down to the basement.

Meanwhile, I was kneeling on one of the living room couches, watching the pitch-dark clouds drift lazily across the sky.  I still remember how the streetlights were on and everything seemed so surreal, and that’s when my stepfather asked me if I wanted to go see if Grandma Betty (my mother’s mother; I suppose I could have clarified this point sooner, but I have now so that works as well) and Aunt Renee were okay.  I agreed, more than eager to have a visit with my grandmother.  And, of course, I thought I’d get to see a real tornado, up close and personal.  I was not a very bright child.

As my stepfather drove, the sky grew darker the closer we got to Mount Washington.  That didn’t deter us, though.  We were adventurers, braving the elements to rescue two little old ladies in distress.  What could possibly go wrong?  It took arriving at a police barricade for the right thoughts to click in the right way in our heads.  I remember looking to my stepdad and saying, “Maybe this wasn’t such a great idea.”

My favorite bit to tell, however, is this part.  We had a lovely above-ground swimming pool at my grandmother’s house.  I had a lot of great times in that pool, and also one time I jumped onto a raft that flipped over and nearly drowned my wild and crazy self.  The tornado picked up our entire cinder block garage, moved it about ten or so feet back, and deposited it onto the swimming pool.  Save for the garage door, though; to this day, nobody knows where the hell that ended up.

It’s weird to think back on all of this, especially since it still feels like a painful length of time too long since my grandmother (and great aunt) passed away.  On those nights I’m home and it’s storming, I make it a point to lay down on the floor in the back room.  No lights on.  Just the occasional flashes of lightning to illuminate the room and the sounds of the rain against the skylights mixed with the rumbles of thunder.

*As of when I started writing it, mind you.