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The Old Storms
When I was growing up, it used to rain frogs. Not just frogs, of course, but those storms are the ones I remember best. My brother Francis and I would chase the creatures around the backyard, hands reaching out, giggling and shrieking. Although we rarely managed to catch one, we still ran outside as soon as the first leaf-green amphibian fell with a plop onto the roof.
Sometimes you could tell when a frog storm—or a flower storm, or a feather storm—was coming because the sky would take on a weird tint, like it was made of stained glass. People tried to figure out patterns, match the colors of the sky to the type of storm. I went through a phase of that myself. I wrote everything down in a spiral-bound notebook my parents bought me for my birthday. “March 4, green like Mr. Seaworth’s new car, dandelion fluff.” After a few months, I looked back over the collected entries and realized there was no rhyme or reason to it at all. I gave up trying to predict what the storms would drop, but a lot of other folks kept on with it.
Some people said the storms were a curse, like the plagues the Egyptians were smitten with when they wouldn’t let the Israelites go. (One of those had frogs, too, but the Egyptians never got ribbons like we did.) And it was true that they sometimes caused an awful lot of trouble. That one with the dandelion fluff on March 4, for instance, put Billy Tremberson in the hospital with an asthma attack.
Other people said the storms were a blessing. My grandmother held to this view, because the first one she’d ever seen had been a rain of fruit when she was just a little girl. This was in the middle of the Great Depression, and she said that looking back on it, she was pretty sure there had been times when her parents went without food so that she and her brothers could eat. “That fruit there, it saved us,” she said.
I don’t think the storms were a curse or a blessing. I think they were just something that happened, like normal weather. There was some magic to them, though, a sense of the wonder and strangeness and bigness of the world. No matter how boring your life got, there was always the chance that frogs would fall from the sky tomorrow.
As I got older, the storms became less and less frequent. When I was in kindergarten, they happened every month or so; by the time I graduated from high school, we were lucky to get one a year. People speculated about that, too. They said we’d gotten right with God and so the curse had been lifted, or we’d pissed Him off and so the blessing had been withdrawn. They said it was global warming or fluoride in the water or that the storms were following Sasquatch migrations.
Me, I don’t much care where the storms came from or why they went away. I just want them back. Francis isn’t doing so well—the doctors took out half his liver—and I want him to get one more chance to chase frogs around the backyard, even if we’re both so slow now that we have no chance of catching them.
Even more than that, I want my grandchildren to run around with their hands outstretched, giggling and shrieking, like we did when we were their age. I want them to gather up ribbons and sneeze at dandelion fluff and get blueberry juice all over their faces.
I still have that old diary, with its inscriptions written in a much more careful hand than my usual scrawl. Every night, after my son and daughter-in-law and grandchildren have gone to bed, I take it out and stand by the window. I look up into the sky, and I recite the entries like a litany.
“March 4, green like Mr. Seaworth’s new car, dandelion fluff. April 27, pink, frogs. May 9, honey-colored, ribbons.”
When I woke up this morning, I noticed that the light filtering in through my bedroom curtains wasn’t the usual golden glow of the early hours. I sat up, placed my feet carefully on the floor, and used my walker to pull myself upright. I shuffled over to the window and pulled aside the curtains.
The light streaming in through the window fell on my face, and I grinned like a little girl, because the light was the color of lilacs.