Summer of 1960 When I Was 7... chapter 15... The Birds Are Wet
There’s something soothing about rain; the quiet, rhythmic patter of the raindrops as they hit the Earth, cleansing, refreshing. I loved to sit at the window or sit on the porch and just watch the rain. I loved the Earthiness smell; the musty dirt, the pine, the smell of ozone as the lightning strikes. It tapped, tapped on our tin roof and it smelled of the earth and of the pine trees that would ooze more sticky sap that would smell stronger with the rain. Sometimes all the birds would suddenly disappear when the rain starts. If the birds stayed hiding, I knew it would be a short rain and the sun would be out soon, but if the birds continued to fly and hunt for worms then I knew that it would be a long, hard rain.
I was sitting on the porch watching the wet birds. The sky turned blue then gray as the clouds were getting dark. The sky felt heavy, like it was pushing the clouds down into the tops of the pine trees. When I went inside, the house was still, the quiet felt sticky all over me. This was one time that Momma didn’t have her records on, but was watching the television, hoping to hear something about the weather.
Moonrose and Patty were sitting on the floor playing jacks. Moonrose was bouncing the ball high because she was on tens. She was trying to pick up 10 jacks at the same time, which is hard to do. Sometimes the ball would go flying off, rolling away on the wood floor. Then Patty would go running off to chase it. I watched them for a minute and was only half listening to the television where Mama was sitting sewing on a quilt.
“What’s going on?” I whispered to Moonrose. I didn’t want to bother Momma. I could feel the tension in the air and I was worried about the bunnies and the puppies out in the rain. The wind was blowing and moaning through the tall pine trees and the rain got very loud as the huge drops pinged on the tin roof. Occasionally we could hear small pieces of ice hitting the windows and roof. Patty didn’t know what was going on. She didn’t like the noise and she moved over to sit whimpering in Momma’s lap.
“It’s beginning to rain cats and dogs,” murmured Momma. I’d always wondered about that expression, I’d heard my father say that he’s seen it rain frogs and worms. He explained that a twister over the water is called a waterspout and it can pick up water and with it frogs and drop them a mile on down the road. And worms…. well, I think they just crawl up out of the wet ground.
“I wish Daddy was home,” I whispered.
“Is it a hurricane, Momma?”
“No, I don’t think so….just lots of rain.” I looked out of the window; the birds had stopped flying a long time ago. The sky was a grayish black and I couldn’t tell if it was night or day. Thick walls of rain were going sideways to the window. As I watched a branch snapped off a tree and crashed to the ground.
Momma jammed a towel under the door. Then she turned toward us. “Marva Rose, go get that rope that’s on the back porch,” she said as she turned back to the TV. I watched the television as the newsman broke into ‘The Rifleman’ with another report but I couldn’t understand what he was saying, the rain on the roof was too loud. Moonrose came back into the living room and said, “I couldn’t find it.”
“Oh, for crying out loud.” Momma deposited Patty on the floor which elicited another loud howl. Momma got on her overcoat and tied a scarf on her head and went out the back door. I knew she was going to the shed under the pole barn to find a rope. Moonrose picked Patty up off the floor and held her in the rocking chair. I sat on the sofa holding the baby’s blanket. The edges were covered in satin and I rubbed the silky fabric between my fingers. I didn’t realize I was cold but the little blanket covering my bare legs gave me warmth and comfort stopping some of my trembling. I knew better than to cry. I had to swallow my fear. My eyes were glued on the backdoor with just the sounds of the wind howling, the thunder booming and the rain pounding for what seemed like a long time. Finally Momma came in drenched with rain carrying a dirty white rope.
“What’s that for, Momma?” Moonrose asked. We were all scared.
“We may need to evacuate.”
“What’s that mean?” I asked Moonrose in a whisper.
Momma heard my whisper and answered, “We might need to leave in the middle of the night if the water gets too high. I might have to tie you girls to me so I don’t lose anybody.”
Patty started to cry quietly. I just sat there.
“I can swim now,” I told Momma.
“I know you can, honey.” Momma hugged me. Momma put the rope by the front door and went back to the TV.
There was a loud boom and a crash and the lights went out. We sat in the dark. Momma lit a candle that I didn’t even know she had. Momma gathered up some blankets and pillows and we all laid down on the floor. We didn’t even have to go to bed. We fell asleep in the living room listening to Momma hum softly while she rocked Patty, the storm pounding on the roof trying to get in. The rope sat by the door.
I remember being woken up the next morning by rolling thunder. The thunder booms the night before would crack in the air with the sound of splitting trees. No, this thunder sounded like a big truck starting up nearby then rolling away down the road and you could hear it as it slowly rumbled past the next house... the next street, rumbling farther past another block then still rumbling as it got softer and farther away. Then just as you could barely hear it, another started up. I counted slowly as it continued on the same path as the one before it, slowly rumbling out of town. One after another they rolled through the low land softly grumbling. Then just as I was letting the grumbling soothe me back to sleep the rain started again, just the dripping kind as it rat-a-tat-tatted on the roof. Another soothing sound that tapped away all the thoughts that nag at the edges of sleep.
I found the peace of childhood – resting secure in the comfort and safety of my home. When I awoke later I laid there in my bed with the drugged feeling of sleep still in my limbs not even opening my eyes, listening to the sounds of nothing, amazed at the quietness of everything. Just as the sounds of thunder and rain had filled the air completely, I marveled at how the emptiness could fill the air just as much. The silence intrigued me. The non- movement in my body was echoed in the non-movement of life around me. Then I slowly noticed the slightest sensation of light slipping around the edges of the blanket of nighttime that had tucked around me in the safety of slumber. The pink beginning of morning brought with it the realization that all was well.
Later that day the sun came out nice and hot and it didn’t take long before we were asking Momma if it was dry enough to go outside. We wanted to go swimming but I remember Momma saying, “Oh, for heaven’s sake, no! No telling what the rain’s washed up.”
We hadn’t realized just how dangerous that storm was. It became Hurricane Brenda and it caused over $5 million worth of damage as it went across Georgia and moved on up the coast before it was done. Our town, being near the Okefenokee Swamp, can flood easily. We were lucky.
to be continued.....