Rain

Posted by on Nov 25, 2010 in All things natural, Dad | 1 comment

I sat on the front step watching the lighting storm, feeling the cool damp air pressing down on my body as I hugged my knees to my chest, thinking of my father. He loved storms as much as my mother hated them, and perversely, seemingly to annoy her, he would carry me out with him to the porch to watch the wild play of light and noise. In the safety of his arms I never felt a second of fear.

I think about how many times over the years I listened to my father tell the stories of the early days of his marriage and the struggles they survived. Somehow he managed to make the worst of times seem funny and wonderfully entertaining. My father’s most amazing gift was his way with a story and even retold a hundred times we all sat spellbound, listening to every work, like a familiar and beloved book dog eared with the reading.

One of my favorite stories was about the time spent visiting with his in laws down at Echols, the rural village in Western Ky where my mother was born. It is a tiny community whose heart was my grandparent’s general store. Other than that were  a few houses, a Baptist Church,  and acres of farmland. Dad’s story was set in 1937, the first year of their marriage. Until that night my mother had always accepted her family’s actions as perfectly normal. I could always see the signs of discomfort on my mother face when my dad commenced telling about the time they were all awoken in the middle of the night, ordered to dress in their Sunday clothes, and then quick marched through the backyard and into the root cellar.

“The men,” my father intoned with an ironic seriousness, “all stood in the front, by the door.” That would consists of my placid, long suffering grandfather and his two oldest sons, Cleo and Billy, plus the kin by marriage, Uncle Bill the war hero, Uncle Hillard, Uncle Dick and my father. “The women and children were pushed to the back.” As he speaks I can see them huddled among the canned peaches and bins of potatoes listening to my grandmother predict their imminent doom with dramatic sobs and prayers.
“I think it’s gonna blow off over toward the river,” my grandfather states with quiet authority.

No Dad, the wind is blowing directly this way.” says one of the sons, but then a sharp look from his father and a loud whale from the dark recesses behind him reminds him how this game is played. The voice quickly recalculates,

“Well, if it veers a little to the south it just might miss us.” The men agrees with that assessment in a voice that is an echo of his Papa’s firm and steady grasp of the situation. My father remains silent, too sleepy and confused to understand this strange family ritual, feeling he has missed something in the news, in the air, that would justify their behavior.

The rain begins to pour down in buckets. The men shut the cellar doors and everyone sits cramped under the earth like buried victims of some mass murder, suffering but not quite dead. The minutes turn into hours before the rain subsides to a slow steady drip, and then, when my father thinks he can stand it no longer, the man we all called Papa declares it safe to head back to the house.

My Dad embellishes the story with each telling over the years until I can smell the air, feel the breath going in and out of the huddled bodies, see the tense frightened faces when the lightening flashes. Never is the story totally revealed without questioning from the rapt audience.

“Daddy,” I ask, knowing the answer from other times, “Why did you have to put on your good clothes?”

“You know punkin,” he answers with a mocking quizzical voice, “I wondered the same thing, so the next morning I asked your grandmother. Millie Burden just drew herself up proudly and told me,
“Well, if we died and they found our bodies I didn’t want them to think we were trash.” We all have a nice long laugh at the absurdity of the poor woman’s reasoning.

“Daddy,” I ask, “Why would anyone be afraid of the rain?” My father smiles and my mother gets up and declares that she needs to do some laundry.

When I married and had children of my own, my Dad told me another story, this one serious. He confessed that as a child his mother had locked him in a small closet under the steps as punishment for his misdeeds. He said he still had nightmares about the dark and enclosed spaces. My father, who stood a head above most anyone around him, whose square shoulders and barrel chest were still straight and strong at ninety years old, the man who had taught me to be as fearless as a badger had an Achilles heel. The fact that he admitted it to me melted my heart.

He’s been gone from me these four years now, but sometimes when the air smells like rain, I take a minute to slip outside and think about how often I stood beside him watching the clouds churn and the wind turn the leaves inside out. Sometimes he would just slip his arm silently over my shoulders and pull me next to him and we would stand there in wordless communion until the rain came.

One Comment

  1. Oh, I envy your relationship with him. Wonderful story. I love storms, too. But I always watched them on my own. Quite happily so, I might add.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *