There are eight million artist stories in the city. This is mine. This is called “Lightning”.
I remember sacred places from my childhood. They come to me as my fingers rest of the keyboard keys, they come like lightening flashes outside the window in the dark night. They come and then they are gone. If I have a job with these memories it is to hold on to them for just a while, the best I can. They are mine to enjoy. And to learn from. Sometimes, even, to share.
Today is the first day of the rest of my life. That is true, technically. That very sentence was written by me in my morning pages two months back, after a dawn rain and hail storm had cleared Portland, and strands of blue sky were peaking in from the west. There was no lightening or thunder, we don’t get much of those here. In fact, with the exception of a single flash of lightening in the middle of the afternoon that Monday when I was sitting in Papaccino’s Coffee Shop, I cannot remember the last flash of lightening or boom of thunder here in Portland. So while today may be in fact the first day of the rest of my life, I am thinking about Monday, 64 days back, and as my fingers touch these keys, I look back to a tremendous thunder storm in 1979. I was on the back porch of Bob and Joanne Hallett’s apartment in Somerville, MA. The apartment was in the Winter Hill section of Somerville, and the land there was elevated. You could look out back toward the north and west, and on this afternoon the frontal boundary of an ominous thunder storm was clearly defined as it moved from the northwest toward us. As it neared the lightening got brighter and sharper, plunging straight down to the ground, running sideways across the sky. And the thunder became louder and so much louder.
If you have lived most anywhere in this country other than the west coast you know what I am talking about. You can sum up all your bravery and prepare yourself and say, “what, me worry?”, and still without any doubt have the crap scared out of you when a lightening flash is followed almost immediately by the ripping,crackling, crashing sound of thunder close by. Sometime when I was much younger, a child, someone told me that the sound of thunder was really the Gods bowling up in the clouds. Who knows? All you know is that thunder and lightning close together are very scary.
I lived and worked in Florida for nearly five years, combining two moves to the Sunshine State. Talk about thunder and lightening. Here is how it would go. You would get up and it would be hot, Florida summer hot. You would go to work, in my case as a juvenile delinqunecy case manager some of the time, as a landscaper and lawn cutter the other times. As the afternoon rolled around the clouds would roll around too, and roll in. And often so too would the storms. It would be a hazy bright looking overhead, but off in the distance the sky would turn a dark gray bordering on black and you knew you were in for it. The wind would whip up, the temperature would drop, cats and dogs and frogs and buckets would come flooding down from the sky, and it would get flashy bright, and very loud. Then, quite likely, in 15 minutes the sun would be shining overhead again.
I lived most of my Florida time in and close by New Smyrna Beach, just south of Daytona. New Smyrna Beach is in Volusia County, and Volusia County is on record for having the most lightening strikes annually IN THE WORLD. Let me sing a little Lou Christie here: “Lightning striking again and again and again and again.”
The scariest time I have ever been in a car from a job interview in Hickory, North Carolina through South Carolina on my way back to New Smyrna Beach. I was traveling southeast out of Columbia, and just as I was connecting with Route 95 and south to Florida a thunderstorm chased me down from the west. The thunder and lightning were bad, bad enough, but the rain came in a deluge, harder and harder, and now on 95 I was unable to see two feet in front or to the sides of my car. Who will I hit, who will hit me? Eighteen wheelers rushing past, skidding up more walls of water. Eventually I pulled off, ever so slowly, into the brakedown lane, expecting to hit someone I couldn’t see parked there, or be hit by someone who couldn’t see me. Finally at rest I waited in the rain until the storm passed on east toward the coast, then crawled back onto the highway and motored my way home.
Originally this blog was intended as a way to honor sacred, childhood places – the basement dug out under the big white barn in the yard down the street, the woods in back of Donnie Sisson’s house, Pinehurst Beach and the way biking there, Mill Pond. Instead, with a casual remark about memories like lightening flashes, the story took off on me, went it’s own way, did it’s own thing, required of me only the pressing of certain keys in a pre-ordained order. I could say that the story changed because I was writing about kid things, and the idea of being scared by thunder and lightning is just a kid thing.
But I would be fibbing.