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As I write this, we’ve now had several days of rain and, as much as I complained about the drought, I’m ready for some sunshine and clear skies. The damp, dreary conditions haven’t kept me from fishing, though. And as I was drying out from my latest trip, I started thinking about the stormy weather I’ve experienced and how different circumstances changed the way I felt about it.
As a small child, I can remember my grandmother, Mother Mac, being incredibly paranoid about thunder and lightning. At the outset of a thunderstorm, she would unplug the television, turn off the lights and make us sit on her couch. (Because it was foam rubber.) It’s easy to look back and say she was just being silly, but Florida is the lightning capital of the world and I guess it’s hard to argue with success. After all, we never got struck once at her house.
Thunderstorms could also put an end to the fun when we were at Mexico Beach for the summers. As soon as the lightning flashed a couple of times, we would have to leave the water and go back up to Grandmother Hentz’s cottage. In those days, there was precious little for a kid to do at Mexico Beach even under the best conditions. Add to that being trapped inside the cottage and it was like doing hard time for a seven- or eight-year-old. (Reading materials down there included 1950s-era Boys’ Life, Better Homes and Gardens and stacks of old true crime magazines.)
It wasn’t until high school that I started seeing a silver lining to storm clouds: If the weather was bad enough, we’d get to miss football practice. I can remember sitting in sixth period at Blountstown High, eyes glued to the windows, hoping the dark clouds on the horizon had enough juice to cook up a day off for my teammates and me. Although I swear that one day we watched Coach David Pitts stare down a rain cloud and make it change directions.
On the other hand, a thunderstorm wouldn’t get you out of work at the Piggly Wiggly. As long as customers were shopping, we were bagging their groceries and taking them out. The upside is that it made the day a little more exciting. The downside is that we had to mop the floors constantly.
When I went to work for Neal Land & Timber Company after high school, it was pretty much the same thing. I remember cutting a land line with Cooter Taylor and my friend Terry Nichols, now a dentist in Graceville. We got caught in a violent storm out in the middle of the woods and I thought we ought to head back to the truck because of the lightning.
Cooter, however, didn’t subscribe to the Ella Mae McClellan theory of thunderstorm safety. His words on the subject were, “Might as well keep working. I ain’t ever known lightning to hit every tree in the swamp.” I’d never thought about it before, but it was an early lesson in playing the odds.
It turns out that the experience with Neal was good training for my time in the military, which began at boot camp in Fort Jackson, SC. That’s where I first heard a drill sergeant quote that timeless saying, “It don’t rain in the Army, boy. It’s rains on the Army.” The first part of that saying never made much sense, but I can attest that the second part did. I found out about the only things the Army didn’t do in a storm was pump gas and let you carry an umbrella.
As I’ve gotten older, I’ve come to see rain and lightning a little differently. I still head indoors during an electrical storm, but if it’s just rain, I’ll keep right on hunting or fishing or running or whatever else I might be doing at the time.
Henry Wadsworth Longfellow wrote that, “Into each life a little rain must fall.” I would add only that life’s too short to let that keep you from doing the things you enjoy.
However, if it can get you out of something you don’t want to do . . . well, that’s a different story.