L. Frank Baum’s classic The Wizard of Oz comes to life quickly in the first scene, when readers meet Dorothy’s surrogate father, Uncle Henry, who surveys the swirling skies for ominous conditions while pulling at the whiskers in his whitened beard. Baum wastes little time before having this family watchdog declare,” There’s a cyclone coming, Em,” thereby setting a familiar chain of events in motion. Auntie Em summons Dorothy. Auntie Em grabs the pleated hems of her flower-printed farm dress and bolts for their shadowy cellar. Dorothy, lost in reverie in her confining bedroom, is hit in the head by a blunt projectile and rendered unconscious. Dorothy is caught in a cyclonic spin cycle. Dorothy lands in Oz when the house hits the ground with a lifeless thud. Und so weiter, und so weiter, und so weiter.

Like Dorothy’s uncle, I have stood sentinel too, only, to a crowded auditorium of diners situated in a small strip mall on Cincinnati’s north side. It was roughly mid-evening that July night, and the commons was abuzz with conversation so loud that it rushed headlong into bare walls and heightened ceilings, fracturing into echoes on the cement floor.  The weather was evermore incommodious that night, however. I remember glancing warily at the narrowly-slit window panes that lined the restaurant skull on more than one occasion. And I think I turned green at the same moment that the stormy skies did.

I was distractedly pulling a stack of doughy, white tortilla shells from beneath a warming light and setting them in a red, plastic tortilla holder that was lined with wax paper when my manager waddled over.

“Let your tables know that we’re under a tornado warning and that they’re free to take shelter in the basement, if they’d like,” he calmly said.

Being an Ohioan, I know tornadoes enough to fear them. I have done enough tornado drills in elementary school to know to not giggle nervously. I’ve listened to a young neighbor begin to cry, when his father’s rushed footsteps on the second floor of their home indicated a twister sighting. And my family and I drove through Xenia, Ohio, en route home from a trip to my grandmother’s oceanfront New Jersey apartment, to view the wreckage wrought by the F5 tornado of ’74. I know cyclones, and I fear them as much as movie stars fear anonymity.

I walked to each table of mine- patiently, burdensomely, self-effacingly- and informed my guests of the approaching danger before retreating to the restaurant’s rendering of Auntie Em’s shadowy cellar. Tucking myself away between cases of beer and extra chairs, I found myself with oddly little company, nobody there but us chickens, anyway. Everyone else had remained in the cavernous upstairs dining area, clinging to weighty burrito platters and laughing.


4 responses to this post.

  1. Posted by Nikki on March 22, 2012 at 2:13 pm

    it’s a twister Auntie Em!!! I love that you tied this into one of my all time favorite movies!! that is awesome! 🙂


  2. Posted by Ben on March 23, 2012 at 1:26 am

    We had 239 deaths in one day here in Alabama last year. You can become inured to the warnings because, thankfully, most of the time nothing happens. I drove through some of the damage from last years storms today. That will wake you up and make you take the sirens seriously.


  3. Posted by Holly u on April 20, 2012 at 11:25 am

    I would have joined you down there Dan! Tornados are scary beasts. We drove thru Xenia after that tornado too and it has stuck with me.


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