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  • For all its middle-America normalcy, Kansas can be a violent place, one of droughts and floods, electrical storms, and of course, tornados. I remember the sunny days that turned dark and gray as clouds swept down from the north and clashed with the warm currents from the south. I remember the sirens that sent us scurrying home to our mothers who shooed us down into smelly basements while they baked brownies to see us through the storm.

    Down in the basement, the radio crackled away as we fiddled with the tinfoil rabbits ears on a seldom used black and white television set. Sometimes we heard the locomotive wind wailing outside. And sometimes the power snapped off, and we sat there wide-eyed, trying not to look scared as the forces of nature battled above us.

    We lived across the street from Thomas Jefferson Elementary school. Next to the school was a rest home and behind that was a large open field of overgrown grass leading down to a small creek. The 1960s was before the time when parents worried that every child out of sight was a child abducted. We walked to school each day, and after school, we roamed the neighborhood until our mothers called us home to dinner.

    It was a Saturday afternoon in autumn, and I decided to go down to the creek. There was always a chance (very slight) that I might find an arrowhead stuck in the muddy banks left over from my forebears. If not treasure, then I might throw rocks at a water moccasin or just pick some cat-tails that my mother and I would turn into art with a little glue and colored yarn.

    As I left our back yard, the sun went behind the clouds and the temperature dropped. The wind picked up, and I thought about turning back for my kite, but didn't. I walked past my school and followed a dirt path around the rest home, beyond their well-kept lawns and into the large grassy field that lead down to the creek.

    I had my walking stick with me in case I needed to fight poisonous vipers or poke a lazy frog. As I cut across the field, I swung the stick back and forth to part the long grass. I was about half-way through my trek to the creek when a loud clap of thunder stopped me in my tracks. I felt a few tiny drops of rain and looked to the sky.

    The clouds were moving fast and dropping toward the earth. They turned darker before my eyes, and I knew a storm was coming. The grass whipped around me, and I could hear the whistling wind rushing through the field, driving the grass down in waves.

    I stared up at the swirling sky and watched its power coalesce. A streak of lightning cracked across the darkness, and I felt the hair on my arms tingle and give way to goosebumps. I lifted my arm and mingled my fingers with the clouds. Another bolt of lightning exploded, and I imagined myself conjuring the storm. I lifted my stick (now mighty staff) and called out magical words. The winds grew stronger as the first fat drops of rain began to fall. I continued my incantations and raised my voice above the gathering winds. I was an eight-year-old boy in a field with a stick beckoning ancient gods to bring forth the elements of destruction.

    A thunderclap boomed and white-hot tendrils of lightning tore across the sky following the direction of my fingertips. I was scared, exhilarated and connected... and then the sirens went off and I knew my little game was over. I was a weed in the wind, and it was time to run away, run away home to the safety of my mother who would tell me to get down into the basement. A while later she'd join my sister and me with a plate of brownies straight out of the oven. We'd all huddle around the snowy screen of the black and white tv and wait for the storm to pass.
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