It’s 5:00 p.m. I’m watching the rain water fall on the leaves of the hollyhocks. The sky darkened a few minutes ago and forced me to turn on a light in the kitchen, as if somehow nighttime descended already. The sirens sounded warning, and all of the people in our house made way to the basement. Before I sat down, I stood at the sliding glass door, watching the sky and listening, eyeing the waterfowl for clues from them about any impending danger.
All at once, I was little, standing inside my grandparents’ back porch, nose pressed against rain-dropped glass, watching my grandfather on the stoop. He smoked a cigarette and scanned the horizon, listening and waiting. I saw him spit, like men do, like farmers do. When he came back in, I told him that spitting was not polite. He didn’t answer me. Tornados had been forecasted, and we waited for them with my grandparents. I don’t remember anything else about that evening.
I woke up the next day to the sound of my mom changing a load of laundry. I saw her feet from my spot on the concrete basement floor. The tornado had indeed swept through our little town, obliterating all of Main Street. I had missed the whole thing, including the part where my parents carried my sleeping self from my grandparents’ cellar to the car and into our house.
The rest of what I know from that historic event comes from the aerial photos that lined the back walls of James’ Java Shop. Over the years, people talked about the buildings and businesses the way they were before the storm. I collected and borrowed memories from other people to fill in the blanks. I only have one specific polaroid to call my own. The image of my grandfather–clad in his Big Ben brand blue farming pants and shirt, smoking a cigarette and watching the skies, spitting.
The all-clear signals just sounded. My Facebook feed lets me know that other areas around us got pelted with hail and torrential rains. Water swelled in the streets in parts of Denver. Hurrying and scurrying to stop the water from damaging a basement there. No danger here. Here, the geese go on as usual, and the hollyhock leaves are stilled. Life shifts, in a few moments. Even with the warning and watching the skies, taking shelter and spitting, it happens. Sometimes here, sometimes there. Just like that.