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I love powerful weather. Wind, rain, snow…you name it. And I’m a big fan of thunder and lightning. One of the few really good things my mother ever did for me was to teach me not to be afraid of thunderstorms. I’m not certain she intended for me to revel in them the way I do (given an opportunity, I’ll stand out in all but the worst of them), but at least I’m not afraid.
But, man, I’ve learned to be RESPECTFUL. Mother Nature tolerates insolence only so far.
As I’ve written before, my maternal grandparents once owned a camp on Spaulding Lake in Oakfield, Maine. Every year, for two weeks in the summer, my folks and I drove 500 miles to visit them and stay at the camp. It was a wonderful time for me. Released from the usual routine of life back in Clifton Park, NY and (mostly) ignored by the adults, I roamed the shoreline, crafting stories in my head, happy to live in my own world without interruption.
The weather along the lake has a tendency to come from the north and west. Not sure why that is, but ’tis true, even to this day. On one occasion, thunderheads began to mass in the distance, peeking at first above the tree-line like advance scouts. These were huge clouds, far bigger than usual. Instead of being comprised of a shifting morass of grey, these were a uniform purply black. We were in for a blow of epic proportions.
We stowed the lawn furniture, made sure the dock was secure and the car windows rolled up, and moved inside the camp. In an instant, the day went from blistering summer to cool autumn as the temperature dropped. Slanting rain drove through the screens in an horizontal line and we hurried to crank the windows closed and batten all hatches. The shoreline, a mere twelve feet away, all but vanished in the tumult of rain solid as a wall. The lake, faintly heard over the roar of falling water, erupted into six-foot whitecaps and chewed the little bit of rocky beach we called our own. Thunder…well, boomed is hardly adquate. Roared also falls short. We spoke between the percussive blasts, unable to hear ourselves, let alone one another.
The lightning arrived while I was in the bathroom taking a pee — an initial sizzling scream of sound like an enraged sabretooth. The bathroom lacked windows, so I didn’t see the accompany strobe of blue-white light, but I shot out of that bathroom like my ass was on fire and sought a place of safety on the tiny cot in which I slept.
The storm marched from the west like an army bent on conquest; a primal, tidal roll of power vast as the swelling sea, Old Testament/Lord of the Rings stuff — God (or Gandalf, take your pick) smoting the earth with his staff. Worlds might be created (or destroyed) from such as this.
“Stay away from water.”
Did those words of warning come from my mother, seated on the couch, or my grandmother, sitting straight-backed and stern in her rocking chair? No matter. I was thirsty, my mouth dried to sandpaper with my own nervous energy. While their attention was on the storm, I crept from my place on the cot, tip-toed across the kitchen to the sink, silently lifted a water glass from the counter, and turned on the tap as another round of lightning struck.
The shock traveled from my hand, up my arm, and down into my toes. Or was it the reverse? All I know is that I was suddenly ablaze. My skin prickled with a thousand bee-stings. The insects crawled beneath my skin, following the course of bones and veins, standing my hair on end. I dropped the glass (no one noticed over the storm’s tumult) and vaulted back onto my bed where I stayed, motionless and sandy-mouthed until, at last, the fracas moved off toward the southeast.
Only later, as I was being tucked in for the night, did I admit to my mother in a hoarse whisper what had occurred. She looked at me for a moment in disapproval, her lips pressed into a tense line, and then a glimmer of something else surfaced briefly in her eyes — a faint hint of the girl she had been, the wild-child of whom her mother had despaired until life wore my mother down as surely as it had worn down her mother before her, turning her resentfully compliant, saddling her with children at too young an age, yoking her to an abusive husband from whom she eventually cut loose only to tie herself to my father. Without a word of recimination, she bent, kissed me on the forehead, and turned out the light.