About 4 o’clock today, a storm passed through while I was at work. It poured buckets of rain and thundered and crashed lightning for about 15-20 minutes. Then it passed. I love thunderstorms. I love the thick stickiness of the air before it rains, especially when I can see the dark, eery clouds moving in, knowing that anytime now all hell will break loose, and the temperatures will plummet. By the time I left work, the sun was shining, the humidity had dropped, and it had cooled off considerably. I learned to love the rain growing up in Louisiana. I also learned to hate it. Sometimes it would settle in for days and days in a soaking monsoon that drenched the soil until it was so full that puddles and small lakes started to form on top of the grass. I remember getting really tired of the rain.
When I think about rain, I always think about that song Smoky Mountain Rain by Ronnie Milsap. It’s one of my favorite songs about the rain, and many musicians have written and played songs about the rain. The Beatles, Credence Clearwater Revival, Bob Dylan, Gene Kelly, and the Grateful Dead all have popular recordings about the rain. Most of them have something to do with heartbreak or losing a lover. In Smoky Mountain Rain, the singer is coming home to a lost love whom he left to seek out greener pastures in California. But, when he came back to the Appalachian region, she was gone …. somewhere in the Smoky Mountain Rain. I lived in Knoxville for 10 years. When I moved there from Jacksonville, I was driving up I-40 and just as I was reaching my exit, that song came on the radio. I thumbed my way from LA back to Knoxville … I felt like I was being welcomed to Knoxville with a little bit of a romantic picture of what could be. I did learn to love the Smoky Mountain Rain. My ex and I took our first hike in the Smokies. On the way back down, on the face of a sheer cliff, a thunderstorm passed through. I remember sitting under that cliff watching it pour down rain. With all of that vegetation and spectacular mountain scenery, it seemed so beautiful for it to be raining. It is a rain forest. And, without the rain, it would not be what it is.
When I was little girl, we played in the rain. As the ditches got full of rainwater that the ground was too soaked to drink, we’d take off our clothes and slide around in the water. It was the natural version of a slip and slide. And, I have to say, it was a lot better than the store-bought one. I can still remember what my PawPaw’s pasture looked like with those swollen ditches and large puddles of rainwater standing all over the place. We’d come in covered in grass and our curly hair wringing wet. Momma has pictures somewhere because they used to threaten to show them to our high school boyfriends when they came over. Momma hung clothes out on the line. She had four little kids all in a row, and she would have line after line of white diapers hanging out to dry in the backyard in the sun. It would start to rain, and she’d grab the clothes basket and race out back screaming at us to help get the clothes off the line before they got wet. It was an urgent matter.
PawPaw had a vegetable garden. He grew all sorts of things, but he fed us with vegetables. Corn, peanuts, strawberries, bell peppers, crowder peas, butter beans and every kind of vegetable that he could find, he grew. The only irrigation he had was a water hose. He may have had some kind of sprayer, but he never had those fancy irrigation systems. His was a home garden even though at one time he had several acres planted. I learned that rain was good. Without the rain, PawPaw got mad. He got worried. He had a family to feed. And, we depended on that food. We had watermelons from the garden twice a day at our house. It was the after lunch and early evening ritual. PawPaw never trusted anybody who didn’t like watermelon. And, watermelons needed the rain.
I watched a flash flood turn a street into a river in Knoxville one afternoon. I saw it drizzle for 118 straight days in Seattle when I moved out there. It rained so much that I washed my car in the rain. I have listened to sirens blow warnings of tornadoes with some frequency in Memphis. I’ve sat on balconies of beach hotels and watched the rain pour down, cooling off sizzling sand castles and providing a shopping day. I was on a canoe trip on a lovely little river in Upper Michigan which ended with a 45 minute thunderstorm pounding on us as we paddled. I hiked the Honey Creek trail in Big South Fork in Tennessee in the pouring down rain for 3 hours, slipping on slippery roots and crawling on my belly over moss-covered rocks so I wouldn’t crack my head on one of them from a fall. I ran a 15K through wooded trails and over sand dunes in the pouring rain in Saugatuck, Michigan for two hours. Once I decide that I’m going to get wet, the rain feels good. I’ve discovered that as long as I’m trying to fight the rain, it’s a pain in the butt. But, when I decide to let it take me, I discover there is something sexy about the rain.
There’s a scene in Love Song for Bobby Long – one of my favorite movies – where they are sitting on the front porch of their little house in New Orleans watching it rain. They are smoking cigarettes and talking nonsense. That’s the best way to experience rain. I love to sit on a front porch while the rain is pouring down. It’s even better if it’s a tin roof, but I don’t see many of those these days. The temperature gets cool, the sound of the rain is soothing and the occasional crack of thunder reminds me of nature’s power. There’s nothing to do but sit and listen. When the storm subsides, there’s an afterglow in the air. It’s crisp and new and smells like the rain. Like Kenny says, There’s something sexy about the rain ….