Summer in upstate New York lasts about 6 weeks, during which time, in my childhood, it got hot enough to wear only shorts and a tee-shirt, it was humid enough to raise a bead of perspiration on my forehead, and it made the dust from the neighbor's backyard horse cloying enough stick to my face and chest when I went to pet it. That horse wasn't supposed to be in my neighborhood at all, but somehow nobody complained enough to get rid of it, and nobody took care of it, not even the boy who had wanted it. I felt sorry for it with its poor short tie-out and its exposure to the weak northern sun and the flies that clustered and fretted about its eyes and tail.
It was a summer Saturday afternoon and I was 9. Nothing had happened much all day except for Mom waiting for me to clean my room; it's my "responsibility," which to me means torture, drudgery, and the hated task of dusting all 42 dolls on my display shelf. I don't play with dolls, which makes it worse. Well, OK, I do play with "Peaches," but she's the only one, and to my mind she deserves to be played with because she's got bright blond hair and a cotton pintuck shift that ends in ruching and lace. She's the only girly thing I've ever wanted to take care of.
Anyway, it's hot, and sticky, and, even though I don't yet know the word, it's oppressive. The flies that somehow get into the kitchen of our house between the hills don't seem to have the energy to be annoying - they just fatly buzz and slap against the windows, trying to get back home. The sun, the unexpected sun, beats down, causing us all to squint and to fidget with the warmth that penetrates our skin and bones. In our part of the land, we see the sun only a few scattered days a year, and most of those are in winter, when we know how to dress and how to play and how to make the hot cocoa that sends the shiver of heat through our numbed fingers and toes.
On this day, though, the sun cooks up a cloud or two over the eastern hillside, an then a few chubby hangers-on are dropped in the pot. A smell of hay rises up from the baked earth as more and more frowning fellows join a darkening procession, and my Mother says "Let's go watch the rain come down."
She gathers umbrellas and blankets and piles us all out onto the concrete front porch that stretches the length of the house. Much to my surprise we leave the front door open and sit on the doorsill or the black bench where we usually wait for the bus. Today though we're waiting for the clouds to overtake our house and for them to put us on a show. My Mother, apparently, loves rainstorms.
Because Nature does not want to disappoint a good audience, bloated banks of turbulent thunderheads overtake our oddly unnerving blue sky, a distant rumble of thunder causes us to jump, and the smell of rain pricks at our noses. A splat of black appears on the driveway, a splash of wet shocks on the walk, the drops gather, then shimmer, then thickly paint our view with a darker shade of real. A breeze bellows out our sweaty hair, another blast of thunder electrifies our spines, and the storm is off and running!
Lightning! Thunder! Crashes and rumbles! Frizzles of electric energy sizzle in our eyes and noses! A neighbor races home in his Mustang convertible, trying to beat the worst of the wet; a couple of kids tear down the street trying to dodge the drops like superheros. My mom smiles and sits back on the bench. She's happy; it's cooler now, she can ride the wind. I thrill softly as I sit with her, the wind whipping our hair, the rain falling, and the thunder bellowing across the far mountains until all that remains of the snarling soaking racing behemoth is a gentle patter of soft round raindrops and the rush of the storms drains busily working.
The storm then fizzles out and eventually ends, but somehow I'm not the same. I’m not the same because I know part of the wild secret that lives in her; the secret of my mother who loves the rain.