As I write this, I’m looking out my window at a blustery, gloomy, damp and rainy spring day. The sky is dark and heavy, pushing gray all the way to the ground. It is just beginning to rain, and it feels as if it will rain for hours. Thunder rumbles in the distance, and even though I am not cold, I shiver a bit in anticipation. I have to go out in a little while, and I dread the prospect on such a miserable day. But, what makes it miserable?
When I was a child, the same type of day was a joy. The front porch beckoned, and I would go outside, sit in the swing, and shiver in the cold dampness. I eschewed the use of a coat if I could get away with it, and let the chill and damp crawl beneath my skin, just to be closer to the weather, to be more a part of the tempest. When the rain came, it dripped directly off the porch roof, straight to the ground below, and I would watch it as the fat drops splashed into the dirt, turning it to mud, then puddles of dark water. If it rained long enough, the muddy water would eventually become clean and expose the small stones and gravel that lived underneath the dirt and dust the rain had washed away. The water would become deeper, two, maybe three inches collecting in a shallow trough eroded by years of days just like this one, the tiny stones shining up through the flickering water, each one different, all just the same.
I would lie on my stomach, my face just a foot or so above the surface, the falling drops not quite touching my hair, and gaze into the water, imagining myself there among the stones in that different world, the mind of the child so ready to do such a thing. So willing to make simple rocks and water another place, another reality. I could plunge to that shallow bottom, tiny and quick, and look up at myself through the water, huge and ponderous, looking back. I could dart among the stones like a minnow, breathing easily, not feeling wet at all, swimming up and down the length of the porch, a towering concrete cliff above me. I would flash my sides in the stormy light, enjoying the feeling of the cool water sliding past me as I swam, nosing the raindrop induced bubbles on the surface, or diving straight to the bottom to investigate an uncovered penny, huge where it lay among the rocks. And then the screen door would open and my grandmother’s voice would pull me back.
“Get up off that cold cement, before you catch your death. It’s beyond me how you can lay there like that anyway. You don’t even have a jacket on! Where’s your coat?”
And I would be back on the porch, and cold, and it would all have gone away. Once it was gone, it was gone. Minnows don’t wear jackets or have complaining grandmothers. Minnows are free of such encumbrance. Hence the joy that came with, however briefly, being one.
Sometimes the storm would worsen, and lightening would etch the gray. The rain would pour off the roof, bringing violence to the puddles, and water misting across the porch. The big oak tree would whistle and celebrate, my elm climbing tree shudder and quake. Starlings, flying sideways in the wind, yammering as they struggled to get home, would come sliding close to the ground, seeking elusive shelter in the lee of walls. Jesse, the neighbor’s cat, ears back, would streak across the yard with concentration so intense, he would not notice a bird passing two feet in front of his nose.
I’d go inside, filch the two rag rugs off the top of the old wringer washer, and sneak back to the porch with my grandmother’s umbrella. There, against the front wall of the house, mist and rain blowing around me, I’d lie on one rug, and cover with the other, then open the umbrella, position it against the worst of the spray, and let the storm take me. Willingly giving myself over to it, gleefully allowing the wind to carry me aloft, I’d let it batter me through the trees. I would bank down alleys, soar along roof peaks and slide over shingles, as the rain flashed through me, the birds skittered beside me, and the power of the storm spread me thin upon the tempest. Then the door would open again.
“You’re getting all wet! Get up off that porch and get in here. Look at these rugs!”
The wind would go on without me. The storm would continue needless of my support. I would look out the window, an observer, insulated by glass and plaster and lathe. But I could remember what it was like, swimming in the puddle and flying on the wind, and I can remember what it was like. All of a sudden, going out in the storm today seems like just the thing to do.