Stormy Youth

Ever suffer from Astraphobia—fear of lightning and thunder? I don’t. Although there are lots of things I am terrified of—such as being attacked by giant spiders who inject my body with some kind of stun juice so they or their offspring can eat me later.

Ever suffer from Astraphobia — fear of lightning and thunder?



Although there are lots of things I am terrified of — such as being attacked by giant spiders who inject my body with some kind of stun juice so they or their offspring can eat me later.

My mother suffered from astraphobia. (Not to be confused with arachnophobia, fear of spiders.)

Mother was raised in Lake Andes, South Dakota — the weather there was scary for her and her twin brother since that part of the country was home to terrible tornadoes and awful lightning storms.

…great balls of fire…

One day Mother, her brother and parents were having dinner when a ball of lightning crashed down the chimney and bounced around the kitchen, then blew up their coal burning stove.

Mother said it was like being attacked by Martians in War of the Worlds. She and her brother were five years old and it was probably the most traumatic incident of their lives.

The ball of lightning also had a profound impact on my grandmother.

Whenever there was lightning after that, my grandmother would wake up the twins and whisper, “Children, there is a terrible lightning storm coming. We may be killed at any moment but at least we will die together.”

Then she would bundle the children up and take them downstairs to the sitting room. The little family would huddle together while the lightning danced around the sky. Their tiny house had three or four lightning rods.

My mother did not want to pass her weather fears onto me.

…safe at last…

I can remember my first lightning storm as great jagged fingers of lightning ripped through the sky. I could barely talk. “Isn’t the sky beautiful?” my mother asked. “We are safe in our house so enjoy the show.”

And I did enjoy the show, not realizing until decades later how terrified my mother was.

Soon mother will have been gone for a decade but whenever I see lightning I feel warm and happy.

Mother taught me the same lessons about tornadoes. There were many tornadoes and tornado warnings in Lake Andes.

My grandparents had a tornado cellar behind their house, and when the skies turned black and you could see the funnels forming we would all get ready to go down into the shelter. Most of the time it was used as a place to store preserves.

… here comes the monster…

When I was about five and it was about this time of the year, a monster tornado approached Lake Andes. My grandfather threw open the doors to the tornado shelter and we got ready to take refuge.

The sky was dark. No sounds. Then the roar of a bull, louder than anything I had ever seen. The great funnel of death moved toward us, dipping here and there, uprooting trees and buildings.

I could see debris sucked into the sky. I was not afraid since Mother had taught me the same attitude with tornadoes that she had with lightning.

“It’s a big one,” I said. “I hope she hits us.” I said this to put the other terrified storm watchers at ease.

My grandfather gave me a good whipping for that.

The stupid tornado missed us by half a mile.

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Jaron Summers wrote dozens of primetime television and radio programs, including those for HBO, CBS, ACCESS TV and CBC. He conceived the TV and Film Institute of Canada. Funded by the University of Alberta and ITV, Jaron ran the Institute for 12 years, donating his services for a decade.

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