Tuesday, October 30, 2007


One of my very favorite smells is of the first drops on hot pavement in the summer. One of my favorite Van Gogh paintings is an attempt to capture rain in oils (it succeeds, in my opinion - he tried to paint everything and in all conditions). I love to fall asleep to the sound of it on a roof above me, especially a tin roof, such as we had when we lived in the little house in Bynum, NC.

But that same sound often makes we wake in a sweat wondering what I've left outdoors uncovered, like my father's tools, when I was young. And I can't abide the feel of it falling on my head when it's cold, or any part of my skin, most days.

Several summers ago we had another drought, and I recall we treated approaching thunder storms like shows. We would move the cars out of the way of the garage, set up chairs just inside the open door, open a bottle of white wine, and sit and watch the patterns of the rain washing in waves from the west, and the trees bending amazingly in the wind. During this year's drought the storms have been so scarce that an all-day rain feels apocalyptic, somehow, in it's dark strangeness. It makes me shiver with delight.

On the other hand, I can vividly recall several miserable drives in pouring rain, hands numb from clenching the wheel, eyes desperately dry in long spells between blinks, wipers providing only blips of vision, like the clarity of air traffic control radar between long sweeps of life and death ignorance.

But I also remember running downhill in blinding wind and rain, practically taking wing on the force of the weather, determined to at least put my boot in Camp Alice Creek before the long uphill journey back to the car. I shouted with triumph in the creek and ran back up to where my love was waiting to get out of there.

A "Stepping Stones" depth consciousness exercise recently shocked me with a forgotten memory of a long bike ride, during which it rained and then cleared up into one of the most intoxicating treks of my life. Soaked to the skin and far away, I was dry by the time I got home. The vignette is so strong, I can remember the feel of my wet clothes, the light on a particular stretch of road, but I can't recall my age or even what state the memory is in. New York? North Carolina? The rain had been sweet, but the aftermath was so clear and even sweeter.

Never mind clear, thunder makes me want to dance and shout. Close lightning, and booms that rattle the windows, make my heart sing. Once, I was running through the woods of my adolescence, racing a storm home, when a simultaneous flash and explosion knocked me flat. Days later I found that the big black walnut, only a hundred feet or so from where I fell, had scattered it's bark fifty feet in all directions and had a black streak, like the mark of Cain, down it's entire trunk. I love the heart of the storm - the louder the better.

But only if I'm dry. Like a cat, I hate to have my skin or fur wet. I detest bringing groceries in from the car in the rain. Even worse is rushing a full grocery cart to my car and loading them into the trunk in a downpour. I break out all over in a vile rash of swearwords.

But one of my favorite memories of Winston-Salem was the day I decided to walk home from work (Wachovia's headquarters, downtown) to our apartment (the absolute end of Northwest Boulevard, past Hanes Park) in a gentle spring rain. I had no umbrella and I was amazed at how long it actually took to get wet to the skin, and how the back of me, as long as I kept moving, remained bone dry. My thick, long hair (this was 1981, and I was twenty) didn't start dripping into my eyes until I was two miles into the journey.

And how I loved rainy afternoons when I was a teen, because none of the neighbors' lawns could be mowed. Incandescent, I would lay on my bed and read books in the gloom, like a man reprieved from a sentence of penal servitude, allowed one more day and one more book. Even now I can derive the same lovely, guilty pleasure in a day when chores are canceled due to weather, and the house falls quiet beneath miles and hours of falling rain. Sometimes we light the fireplace and lay on pillows on the floor and read Pooh stories aloud, the sight of the flames and the sound of the water lending magic to the delightful words.

"The Piglet was sitting on the ground at the door of his house blowing happily at a dandelion, and wondering whether it would be this year, next year, some time or never. He had just discovered that it would be never, and was trying to remember what "it" was, and hoping it wasn't anything nice, when Pooh came up."


DebD said...

I am amazed at how much you remember. I remember so little from my childhood and rely on my sisters to help me out.

I also love thunderstorms - especially those slow coming ones in the middle of the night.

Steve Emery said...

Oh yes - slow running storms that rumble in the distance for hours, how wonderful. And heat lightning after sunset...

Actually my dear wife tells me things we've done that I can't recall at all - and we're not talking about childhood then. And she continues to give details until sometimes it emerges from the fog, so I know she doesn't make these up. I wonder what I'm doing with my memories. She asked me, "What's it like not being able to recall large portions of your past?" I said I didn't know anything else, really. And then I joked that all those memories are being stored up for my dotage, so while I'm nearly comatose in my ancient old age I'll have something to do.