“Over there! Did you see that?”
“Wow! That was totally amazing!”
“Mummy, I’m scared!”
“Just pull the covers over your head.”
“Where’s the dog?”
“Probably under the bed.”
If you live in South Western Ontario, an area of land that is bound on three sides by water: Lake Huron, including Georgian Bay, to the north and northwest, the St. Clair River, Lake St. Clair and the Detroit River to the west, and Lake Erie to the South, then you would have immediately guessed what I was writing about today. Maybe even after the very first line—lightning!
Windsor, Ontario, as well as being the only Canadian city that actually looks north to the United States ,(across the river from Detroit, Michigan) is the lightning capital of Canada. Unlike the Las Vegas marketing phrase, “What happens in Windsor doesn’t usually stay in Windsor.” In fact the lightning storms seem to have always moved the 120 miles or so, that I have lived away from them, to wherever I happened to be at the time. I have already experienced more severe thunderstorms than you could shake a stick at. Not that doing so would help put an end to your fear and trembling in the midst of one. Unless of course it’s an aluminum hockey stick and you go wielding it about like an NHL enforcer. In the midst of a thunderstorm—that would do the trick. Permanently!
The first lightning strike I can remember is the one that hit a big maple tree just outside the little white house of my childhood. With the sound of a cannon-shot at the foot of my bed it hit its target! The bark on the tree was torn from top to bottom in a ragged gash! It entered the house through a wire running from the TV antenna. The television, which our maternal grandparents from Pittsburgh had given us, was suddenly transformed into a box full of useless melted electronics. Secure in the knowledge that our daddy could protect us from any danger whatsoever, my sister Marsha and I were not so much afraid afterwards as disgusted— No Howdy Doody Show? No Lone Ranger?! Even the possibility of a visit from the local TV repairman, with his big box full of tubes, condensers, resistors, switches and other parts to remedy the situation, was totally out of question. Our curious little brother Keith would have to wait for another day to pester him with a hundred questions as he peeked over the squatted man’s shoulder and attempted to pick up every fragile glass tube in sight.
Our paternal grandparents lived in the yellow brick farm house next door to us at the time, but they didn’t have a TV, just a radio and a big wind-up Victrola in their upstairs hall that my older sister Marsha and I happened to see one day. When our grandparents were away the two of us sneaked into their house. Our grandmother would not have been pleased, but she could hardly blame Marsha for not being able to resist the temptation to come back and pick up all the confetti she had seen sprinkled on the steps leading upstairs on a previous visit. Marsha was bolder than I was in her break-in into our grandmother’s house as she was Grandma’s favourite, having lived there when she was just a baby. This was before Dad had finished building our family’s own house next door. The only other time I could remember being there, up to that point, was when Mummy and Daddy had taken Marsha to the doctor or somewhere important, and I had to sit on a little red step-stool while Grandma rolled her hair onto strange tubes that looked like short shiny pencils. She asked me if I wanted a soda biscuit and I remember that I was afraid to answer her because I didn’t know what a “soda biscuit” was. Mummy only ever called them crackers. Then Grandma opened a blue tin box and after she had handed me one she said “Say Tah”. I didn’t know “Tah” was her word for “Thank you” up until then either. Maybe it was Scottish, because our grandmother had come from Scotland as a girl. The truth is I didn’t know much about Grandma at that time at all, just that she must have been to a wedding once, she looked funny with silver things on her head, and she didn’t have a TV set. She probably wouldn’t have let us watch it if she’d had one anyway.
A few years later, when the family of Bill and Jean Stephenson, with five children under the age of six, grew out of the little two bedroom house next to our grandparents, my grandmother was finally persuaded to exchange houses. By that point she was unable to manage all the housekeeping in the larger house, and my father had purchased the farm. Certain things always expand to fill the space allotted to them— weeds, insulating foam that comes in spray cans from Rona, and children. It was in this house that the family grew again, with the addition of three more babies.
One night when we kids were all fast asleep in our three big upstairs bedrooms, and Mom and Dad were in their bedroom downstairs, next to the dining room, we all suddenly awoke to what seemed like a tremendous explosion. The following is a description of the incident in my father’s and mother’s own words. It is taken from a 160 page book of dialogue in response to questions about their lives, which our son Steven Rollason asked them. The book was a tremendous endeavour and it took a great deal of time and patience for him to record, transcribe and fashion into a family keepsake for each of us. Dad and Mom were like tag team wrestlers in their typical conversations. Mom interrupted Dad a lot in his responses, but he did the same when it was her turn to speak. Thank you Steven for giving us such a gift! From Tales of Wild Bill From Over the Hill and Jean-Jean the Dancin’ Machine, A History of the Stephenson Clan:
Dad: It was a bad electrical storm and there was a huge “Crack”, a direct hit that hit a tree near the house which had a clothesline running on a pulley attached to the tree, about seventy-five feet or a hundred feet away that was connected to the house. And what happened was that there was this big lightening bolt that went right through the brick of the house, through a two by four; it had a plate on it and a nut on it. Well, when it blew it came back and just a chunk of plaster and lathe just went like this (gesturing) everywhere on the floor, and of course the Hydro went out! It was dark instantly; it was dark anyway because we were in bed but…
Mom: The kid’s all screamin’…
Dad: And even the old dog who was…
Mom: Jumped into bed with me! (laughing)
Dad: Must have come into the bedroom, and when the huge light came it actually lit up the whole dining room, just “Shoosh”! And the dog jumped right into bed with her! I went out, I went out to the dining room, I remember, looking for a candle or something and walking around on piles of broken plaster and stuff on the floor.
Mom: Oh yeah!
Dad: So that was an experience!
(I can hear my Dad’s voice as I transcribe this,and still after all this time tears fill my eyes. We all loved him dearly and we still miss him more than I can say— especially his soft-spoken ways and his total honesty when telling a story in such an unembellished way. Very unlike some of his wordy children that’s for sure!)
A few years into our marriage my husband Rolly and I were living in another little white house, just around the corner from my first childhood home. With a deafening bang, lightning hit the telephone pole outside and came in on the line. It blew the big black telephone, which was attached to the wall, right off and into the middle of the kitchen floor! (A warning against gossiping perhaps?) Fortunately I was not on the phone at the time, as this single bolt preceded any other lightning by several minutes. In the same house it hit another time, close enough to blow out several light bulbs, including those in the kitchen light directly above my head. I did my best Michael Jordan impression, nearly hitting the ceiling at that point!
Later, when we built the house that Rolly and I still live in, lightning hit and blew out the motors of the deep freezer, the refrigerator and a fan. In a later storm a lightning bolt, which our electrician told us had probably hit the ground outside and then come in through the wiring, somehow burned a fatal pinhole into the VCR, and also killed the telephone and the clock radio. In a third incident a violent strike eliminated our entire phone system, including all three hand-held phones. The craziest thing we ever saw happen was when lighting hit very close to us, without any apparent damage. A few minutes later we heard strange loud banging noises coming from the garage. Apparently the lightning had blown some component of the garage door openers out, and one door had come off the track completely on one side. It was banging loudly as it moved strangely back and forth and up and down like a rodeo bull, while its tamer twin just did the Electric Slide! We actually had to run down to the basement and pull the fuse to get them to stop. By then the off-kilter door had gouged a deep hole in the drywall of the garage wall and another in the ceiling. A bit like The Twilight Zone!
It was, and still is, beyond my comprehension what the power of lightning can do. It seems to have followed me around from house to house. It once even hit my Mom and Dad’s trailer, which Rolly and I were using at the time to holiday with the kids in a nearby campground. It totally fried the entire circuit panel!
The Ontario Hydro crew have been here to reset the transformer switch, at the roadside in front of our house, following so many electrical storms that I think we should have them on speed dial by now. Three times in the last year alone!
Whatever the big attraction is I suppose I’ll never know. I wanted to throw in a facetious last line here to say that it was, in all likelihood, my magnetic personality but when I looked up magnets and electricity on Google it said that magnets do not actually attract electricity! You learn something new every day. The “boss” is calling now, likely for about the third time. I get distracted when I write and I keep on telling him repeatedly that I’ll be there in five minutes (so he says). I think there’s a storm brewing. I better get going, (and pick up some batteries while I’m at it!)