Dust In The Wind

My family moved from Utah to Arizona the summer I was six years old. In the weeks before we left, somebody gave me a cheap plastic pinwheel, the kind that looks like a shiny flower on a stick and spins when you run with it. I remember standing in my grandpa’s front yard in Hyrum and holding it out in the cool breeze and being overcome with sadness that my gift would not be good for long. “It’s too bad there is no wind in Arizona,” I said to my dad. “My toy won’t work.” My dad reassured me that the wind still blows in desert climes. I filed this information away with other bewildering truths about weather, like how it sometimes rains while the sun is shining.

My family lived in Glendale for three years and I found out that in addition to wind, there is also rain in Arizona. One year, the monsoon tore down the gate to our backyard and tried to take the tin roof off our shed. Another year, the wind carried enough orange blossoms and thick pollen into our yard that I stepped outside and my eyes swelled up bright red and I had to sleep sitting up. I learned that weather can make you sick.

My family moved to Ohio the summer before fifth grade. We had big yard and a basement that we learned would keep us safe if a tornado came through. Tornadoes were big that year: Twister came out and I also saw Night of the Tornadoes on TV, with Devon Sawa. The day before the tornado, my siblings and I spun around in the eerie afternoon light screaming, “The tornado is coming, the tornado is coming!” until we collapsed on the grass all spinning and sick. I woke up that night to a freight train barreling through the window by my bed. I didn’t know that freight trains meant run to the basement, so my sister and I ran for my parents’ room next door instead. My brothers at the back of the house did not even wake up, not for the siren, or the train, or the aftermath with neighbors walking the street in the dark sharing stories. The next day our congregation turned out in force with lasagnas and tools to rebuild the part of the chimney that the wind ripped off the side of our house and the part of our fence that ended up in the neighbors tree and the broken bedroom windows. A neighbor printed up t-shirts that read, “I survived the Sawmill Woods microburst!” One kid got hurt; a piece of wood went through his leg, which is why I know this is not really okay to say, but the tornado remains one of the coolest things that ever happened to my family.

I moved to Tucson the summer I was eighteen. First semester was a mess of parties and boys and fights with my best friend. My Spanish instructor assigned us to put together a multimedia report on a city, any city, with a Spanish-speaking population. I confusingly chose Chicago and wrote a short biography on Sandra Cisneros and printed out tiny copies of paintings by Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera, even though I can’t tell you now whether or how those latter two were connected to the city, and wrote a Spanish fable about how Chicago came to be known as the Windy City. It involved a lover lost on Lake Michigan, which I must have thought was more like the ocean than it is, and another lover left on shore, and a sad-faced cloud forever blowing wind over from the water to the land. I had no idea that a year later I would meet a boy who loves this city and that four years after that I would take a chance on it with a scary exciting new job, and that four years after that I would give birth at the top of a tall Chicago hospital surrounded by taller skyscrapers on a cold and windy April day.

I moved to Chicago for the first time the summer I was twenty-four. I worked as an intern at a law firm downtown and my wordly colleagues told me that the Windy City moniker has nothing to do with the weather and everything to do with the city’s blustery, bullshitting politicians. The most cursory internet research now suggests that both of these are wrong, and that the name perhaps stems from Chicago’s rivalry with Cincinnati, a contention that strikes me as both plausible and amusing. Speaking literally, Chicago may not be the windiest city in the country, but it is still shockingly windy:

When I was twenty-five, my bar prep class was evacuated to the first floor of a downtown law school during a tornado warning and my friends who were already employed reported tall office buildings swaying in the wind.

When I was twenty-six, I spent a birthday check from my grandmother on a gorgeous green umbrella that flipped inside out the first day I took it outside.

When I was twenty-seven, I pedaled six miles against the wind up the lakeshore trail and decided bike commuting was not all it was cracked up to be.

When I was twenty-eight, in the middle of this sweltering summer, I told my husband that my favorite weather is hot wind. It reminds me of Arizona, which somehow became home over the course of the ten years I spent living there and the six more I spent flying back to visit people I love. It breathes life into scorched days. It offers the briefest respite.

Three days ago, on the first fall-like day of the year, I took my baby for a walk by the lake. It was the first time it was cool and cloudy enough to take her out without a sun hat flopped over her eyes and I left the top of the stroller pushed back. When we hit the shore, she started opening and closing her mouth like a fish and I thought she was hungry. She started poking her tongue out and biting the air and I thought she was goofy. She laughed and I thought she was happy. I took the blanket off her lap and she kicked her legs out and flexed her toes and I realized she was feeling the wind for the first time in her life, tasting it, eating it up, experiencing it with her entire body. She giggled the whole way home.

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2 Responses to Dust In The Wind

  1. I didn’t know you still blogged! This is my favorite post ever. I loved every word! I also love that we have the exact same memories of the tornado, down to the piece of wood that went through a boy’s leg.

  2. Julie McDonald Crowder says:

    I really loved reading this. So many lovely memories. I remember seeing your house after the tornado on the news all the way out here on the west coast.

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