02 June 2007

Storm

On the way home from Costco, where it is impossible or maybe illegal to spend less than $100, we encountered our first summer shower this year. I should say that my elder son was at the wheel, just recently licensed to do this, by the way. Nothing amiss, just a detail to help you imagine.

We arrived home as the rain was at its heaviest. Our house is a scant thirty feet from the garage, and there was no sign it would abate soon, so I took off my shoes and socks and rolled up my pant legs. Son looked quizzical, and I explained it was better to have wet feet than wet leather. The disposed articles went into the box with the items we had purchased and we raced.

Soaked. In that short time we were nearly as wet as if we had fallen into a pond. Arriving at the back door inside the cover of the screen porch, our hair hung like rodents washed up from sewers. My efforts to save my shoes was made the worse, as now the insides were wet….

… Flashback more than thirty years to a summer day on the Eastern Shore of Maryland. I am with my fiancée and her parents (later wife and in-laws) to visit the pater familias, a very old, very squat, frog voiced chain smoking man of little hair or vision who spent every afternoon in front of the TV watching “his stories,” the soaps.

Cap’n is what I called him, a local honorific from when he was a big man in this tiny town on an island in the Chesapeake, now connected by causeway to the mainland.

I could hardly understand him, so thick was his voice with age, tobacco and the local accent. He smiled though, revealing much gum and few teeth. That was good, the smile part I mean. Her daughter, my future mother-in-law, doted upon him. She was not quite sixty then. He was past 80 then, and would live another dozen years.

We were spending the night, as it was too long to drive down from Baltimore and back in a day and do all that tradition required – visit, drink iced tea, make supper (wash the corn, snap the beans, slice the tomatoes and steam the crabs), eat supper, clean up, converse, wave away the smoke, wipe the sweat from your face, and so on. So come 10 p.m. or thereabouts we began to set up the various beds.

Capn’s house was used to visitors. Lots of ‘em at times. He slept in the downstairs bedroom. The two bedrooms upstairs were a men’s and women’s dorm when the whole family came in. Even so, I was a challenge, and it was agreed I should bunk on the screen porch out front.

Being a very warm southern night I welcomed this outcome, as the breezes played nicely across my sheets and the tall boxwood hedges effectively screened the very few headlights that now and then hummed past.

For a little while I sat there on the swing which was to be my bed, smoking cigarettes and taking a furtive nip from a little flask I kept for easing insomnia. This was a regular companion in my youth, especially in new locations. It was not long, though, before I felt my eyelids growing heavy and I lay down and indeed drifted off.

Not long after, but certainly an hour or more, I woke with a chill. The wind was picking up and the sheet was not enough any more. The sky lit up gently with far away lightning and I knew a storm was coming.

Coming from the northwest it did not assault me right away, as the porch faced east. I felt the moisture before the rain itself, and heard it approach as the lightning came faster and thunder which was all but inaudible marched toward us like giant steps. I thought it would be a rather sweet little storm, something of a cloudburst.

And so it started, but swiftly swelled into a squall and then a gale. The wind ripped around the house and rain threatened on every side. I lay on the swinging bed, sheet gathered to my chin, head on a clasped hands under my cheek, watching the sky go from black to white and preparing for the crack and rumble.

Despite being right on the edge, feeling the mist of the rain cover me like a cloud, my mood was calm, even serene. From my childlike pose I could see the sheets of rain running across the lawn which was bent by wind and water. The grass rolled like the waters of a stormy sea.

Far from frightening me, I found myself feeling safe and secure. I cannot understand why, then or now. By all rights I should have been at least excited. Millions of volts were forking down, forces equivalent to ordnance played around me. Rationally, I should have been afraid as I was as a small child. But instead, I felt calm.

As the storm subsided I fell back asleep in that wonderful way sleep comes and whisks you away in a sweet moment. I awoke with the sunlight that waited a little as it had to break the high hedge and work its way down the wall until it could pry my eyes open.

“We all worried about you,” my fiancée said. “Did you get any sleep?”

“I was fine. Never slept better.”

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