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When Lightning Strikes

Last night, my attention was caught by the flame of a candle as it swayed and stretched at our dinner table. Wildfires came early this year, touched off by strikes of a rare summer lightning storm. I’ve been concerned for friends and people I know living in areas under threat, their “go bags” ready for the blast of the hi-lo sirens that signal a mandatory order to evacuate.

Outside the air is heavy with smoke. Bits of fallen ash are held in the giant cupped leaves of rhubarb.

One of my sons, whose family was evacuated several times during the last round of wildfires, half-jokingly said that California is becoming a desert. I asked if he remembers hearing the sound of frogs croaking on our property when he was growing up. I can’t recall when I last heard them here. For the past several summers, lizards have been sunning themselves on the edges of our raised garden beds.

I’ve always felt that seasons aren’t as clearly delineated in California as I remember them to be on the East Coast. This seems especially true to me in recent years when I’ve wondered, more than once, if we’d missed spring or fall, entirely. Do we now have three seasons – winter, summer, and wildfire?

When the thunder and lightning that preceded these fires began, I hurried out the back door into the charged, humid air. Summer storms were part of my early childhood and the rain was warm! I’d play outside in the shower as long as I could, until my grandmother came out, the screen door banging shut behind her. Hands on her hips, her round figure bisected by an apron, she’d shake her silver-bunned head in disapproval.

If dark clouds were gathering overhead and my grandfather wasn’t busy, he’d come out and settle himself into one of two wooden rocking chairs on the covered porch. I would take the other and Nana would retreat to the kitchen. This was our routine. Always dressed for business, his white hair combed perfectly into place, he’d tilt his chair back, fold his hands over his lap and ask, “Are you ready Chicken?” I’d nod; happy, excited and a little afraid. It wouldn’t be long before Nana would reappear with mugs of tea and plates of buttered toast and green grapes.

Another of our sons, who now lives in Tennessee, sent me a short video of his garbage can being swept down the street in a summer downpour. Caught by a heavy stream that overflowed the gutter, it rolled merrily along, fully upright, eventually coming to a stop at a neighbor’s mailbox. I could hear the kids laughing in the background. My grandson was yelling “bye garbage!”

Later, my 10-year-old granddaughter called to tell me the thunder was so loud it frightened her. I told her I wished I were there so we could enjoy the storm together. I imagined us in her sunroom watching the lightning flash and crackle over their backyard, no fear of fire in the rain.

2 replies on “When Lightning Strikes”

Isn’t it wonderful the memories evoked by the sound of thunder? It always takes me back to the first time I heard a big clap of thunder that sounded like it was right on the roof of my childhood bedroom in Seattle. Before I could get the nerve up to dash to my parents’ bedroom, Dad came in to check on me and to explain that big boom. Now when I hear it, I’ll think of your memories, too.

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Great mom. Beautifully written and it really captures the sense of fear and uncertainty but also reminds us to sit back and just enjoy the show like we used to. I remember sitting on the porch of our red house with Gramps drinking hot chocolate that you made watching one of these lightning storms.

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