My first clear memory is of storm. And Walter Cronkite, but mainly storm.
I was all of two years old, sitting on the living room floor of our cracker-box house on the waterfront in Petropolis. It was a stormy weekday morning, around 9:30. I know this because the CBS mid-morning news was on the air, hosted by Walter Cronkite. Walter was not to be missed, even on a black-and-white Philco with a four-inch screen. Was I already a news junkie, or did I just like his voice? It’s tonal qualities lay somewhere between your favorite uncle’s, and God’s.
Rain battered the house, and wind. Suddenly the power failed, and the lights. Walter vanished into a dot of light, and thunder crashed towards us from all sides. Mom scooped me off the floor and fled to the bedroom, where we hid under the covers. She feared lightning and the sound of thunder with all her heart. But I found it exciting.
In those days of poorly-insulated houses you could really hear the rain on the roof, feel the wind shoot between the window panes and shake the house. As a child and teenager, I looked forward to those nights when the elements would sing me to sleep.
There’s line from a zen teaching story: “I am the sound of the rain.” It always calms me.
I own my own house now in which, thanks to modern insulation and double-paned windows, I can no longer hear the rain or wind from our bed: only, faintly, traffic. It’s not the same. Rhumba refuses to leave the bedroom window open when the rain comes, on some general wifely principle.
Besides, we’re in a drought. There’s been very little rain to hear these past three years.
This past week all the talk has been of a powerful storm that’s headed our way at last: a big, swirling monster with tentacles that reach past Hawaii to draw in warm, moist air and squeeze the water out of it right over our town. “It’s a bad ‘un,” the weathermen said. “We need the water, but the wind and water will bring wrack and ruin and roofing bills to many.”
And so I feared it, a little. I thought of our leaky rain gutters, sagging fences, aging roof, and dry rot. And I thought: let it go by; let it miss us. Let nothing fail in this house. Let nothing go wrong. For I’m old and full of worry, and want no trouble.
And yet this morning the wind rose as I knew it would. Squat street trees danced and swayed in its grasp. Awnings of stores and restaurants snapped like pennants.
Out on the streets, months and years of yard trash — bark, leaves, twigs, mulch — caught the wind and skipped down the pavement like little elves. Storms of them paced our car on either side, blowing ahead of us at stop signs which we had to obey but they did not.
The wind died by mid-morning, and then the rain came: a hard, steady soaking rain of the sort that I remember from childhood. The kind of rain that comes for the day and brings its own lunch. It’s been with us for twelve hours now.
And a few streets flooded, and the power’s out in the mountains above town; that’s just a given in this place.
But the roof didn’t leak and the gutters hang in there, and dry rot’s for another day. The back fence fell down, but I’ll push it up again tomorrow and call the contractor.
As I write this, I’m sitting downstairs in the dining room; from this space, I hear the rain clearly. It patters on the glass and drums on the ground. And it brings me its own form of peace.
Bedtime is near; the rain’s song can’t reach my well-insulated bedroom, but I’ll hold it in memory.
And I will be the sound of the rain.