I again read my letter penned to Grandma Schwarz in late winter 1977. The multi-page missive was written over four days and covers a range of topics, but what strikes me these decades later is each day brought her up to date on the weather conditions from Hancock. I informed her “been having snowy, cloudy days” and that it “reminds me of when Mom talked about in Arkansas where it would snow and then be gone the next day”.
I alerted her three days later, much to the chagrin of mom, that I had passed a safety test for shop class, and was all set to run the machines for wood-working. Oh, and of course that “the weekend sure is supposed to be nice and warm….”
What amuses me as I read the letter, other than my penmanship was pretty good long before the age of the computer ruined it, was Grandma was not on some faraway island needing to be updated on our weather. She was only in Iowa with relatives!
I have been told by more than one person, who did not grow up in the Midwest, that we talk about the weather more than folks from other regions of the country. I have never read any poll or anecdotal evidence to know if this is true, but I know that weather seems to never tire as a topic. And for good reason.
Today Madison experienced what we would have called back home a ‘gully-washer’ as the skies simply opened up and sheets of rain dumped itself for about 20 minutes. The homes next door were veiled by the intensity of the storm. There is no way not to be awed by such weather or be pulled to the window or out on the back porch so to watch it. Feel it.
During a hail storm of some duration in 2005, when James and I lived on the West Side of Madison, I took the umbrella and experienced the drama on our lawn. The dotted appearance of the lawn is from the number of ice pellets, and the expression and hand motion clearly shows my glee with the storm.
I came to know storms should be watched up close from Grandma, as I wrote in Walking Up The Ramp.
We find that often elusive sense of security in a loved one’s embrace. Mother felt safest when she had all of us tucked in under her wings in the basement. Her mother, my Grandma Schwarz, was a bit different. Weather phenomena were something she also enjoyed, but I need to state right up front that I never saw her willingly walk out into a rainstorm or a gale. I do recall standing with her, her arm around my shoulder, at the screen door of her home. She left the door ajar during what my childish understanding thought to be a massive storm. The crashing thunder and bolts of lightning were grand, but there was nothing to fear if Grandma herself was willing to be there in the midst of it all.
I had never experienced a storm in that way before, watching it descend all around, viewing it up close and personal. I absolutely loved the way Grandma watched it, and knew this type of fun could be had at our home too. The question became, of course, how do I convince Mom that letting me ride out the storm from above ground would be a good idea? I knew instinctively that the “But Grandma said…” path of argumentation would likely not produce the results I hoped. My plan would take more thought than that. Moments spent watching storms with Grandma demonstrated two things. The first was that weather was clearly something to be enjoyed, and secondly and perhaps most importantly weather can be viewed up close even when it is wild and unpredictable. That understanding is something I have carried with me every day of my life.
When I was a teenager, and with the aid of our state’s inter-loan library service, I read books about clouds and storms and all the things that made me continuously smile. Over the past months, with a pandemic changing our daily lives, I have had extra time to explore topics that amuse me. I pulled a textbook from one of my shelves about meteorology and have been taking my time to again walk through the reasons behind what makes me, as an adult, still smile.
After I had been working in radio broadcasting for a few months, I was talking with Grandma in her house trailer. She asked what I liked best about my job and I told her alerting listeners to the watches and warnings from wild weather was something to be very much enjoyed. There were many parts of broadcasting that warmed my heart, but imparting some drama, and even a touch of the wondrous side of weather, was surely something that my listeners had not heard before.
As the rain fell heavy today on the isthmus and the lightning lit up the gray clouds I thought of Grandma. She would have enjoyed the storm. As such, I just had to write this blog post.