By Bonnie Hutchinson
What's scarier?Thunder, lightning or the nude man?
I’m startled awake at 2:30 a.m. by a crack of thunder.
’Tis the season. Hot days, thundering nights.
The storm continues flashing and banging – sheet lightning, low rumbling thunder, fork lightening, sharp cracks that shake the window panes. Behind it, the sound of pounding rain.
Just as when I was a kid watching thunderstorms, I’m in that state of glorious enjoyment of the spectacle mixed with a tinge of respectful fear at the awesome power of nature.
And, it being the middle of the night, I’m also sleepy. But I’m not going back to sleep what with all that banging and flashing.
My mind drifts to thunderstorms past …
July, sometime in the 1950s. Our family–two grown-ups and four kids–lives in a 625-square-foot storey-and-a-half home in the brand new “west end” of Camrose (now considered part of central Camrose). Everyone on our block is in a newly-built home.
In those small-town days, nobody locks the house doors. There’s no need, and besides, it would just be a nuisance.
Our neighbours on the block are mostly young families, but our next door neighbours, Mr. and Mrs. Windel, are an older couple (at least, they seem older to me–probably younger than I am now). Their grown children live far away. Mr. Windel’s job takes him away from home frequently and Mrs. Windel is left alone.
We’re friendly, but not in each other’s pockets.
It’s a hot July; lots of thunderstorms.
Even as a kid not paying much attention to grown-ups, I can tell that Mrs. Windel’s fear of thunderstorms is not typical. Other people might not like thunderstorms much, or even be uncomfortable, but Mrs. Windel’s fear is something different.
On a sunny summer morning, she’s looking to the west, saying, “Looks like it’s clouding up. I hope there’s not a thunderstorm tonight.” And I can tell she’s going to be worried all day.
Our mom tells Mrs. Windel she’s welcome to come to our house during a thunderstorm if that would help. A couple of evenings, Mrs. Windel does, and goes home when the storm is over. Again, I can tell that the kind of fear Mrs. Windel is feeling is different from anything I’ve noticed in other grown-ups. (As an adult, I’d say it was something like “primeval terror”, but I didn’t have that language then.)
It’s such a hot July that grown-ups are having trouble sleeping. After we kids are asleep upstairs, our parents decide that, rather than try to sleep in their hot cramped stuffy bedroom on the main floor, it would be cooler to sleep in the living room–right by the front door. They open up the davenport for a makeshift bed.
It’s too hot for blankets, though they do have sheets.
They settle in for the night as best they can.
They are awakened in the night by a crack of thunder.
And–within seconds–by the sound of a shriek, as
Mrs. Windel flings herself through the front door.
She is terrified.
So is my dad. There’s a woman in the room who is not his wife–and underneath that sheet he’s wearing nothing at all. Trapped!
Clearly Mrs. Windel is not leaving until the storm is over.
Our mom (who’s wearing a flimsy, but respectable nightgown) graciously offers tea and begins some distracting chat with Mrs. Windel. Dad stays on the davenport, clutching a sheet to his chest.
A few days later, I overhear my dad telling the story to a friend. “I think–I hope–she was too scared to notice there was a naked man in the room,” he says. And the two men laugh.
And no, my parents didn’t start locking the door after that.
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