Remembering the Storms

Monday, an afternoon storm rolled in. The clouds were shades of grey. Around us, thunder rumbled and the clouds quickly turned to black. The wind was blowing hard, bringing the rain in from the west, bending the trees. A sharp flash of lightning appeared. The anticipation of hearing in crackle never happened: it was unnerving. The hair on my neck prickled because the pause made me believe God was deciding what to do with the electricity. I could not help but think I would be the recipient.

Our children were running up and down the front steps of our house, in and out of the few drops of rain that came down. I called them in to get them out of harm’s way. I thought: when it comes, it will be a very heavy rain. A storm was brewing.

I was reminded of the days when I was a child. I sat on the front porch with my mother and my brothers and sisters, drinking rain water that cascaded off the tin roof. Puddles of water formed near the stilts at the base of the house.

There was a lot of joy to be had watching a storm roll in. It was like admiring the awesome power of God.  And yes, there was an element of fear and and being humbled. And when the rain would finally arrive, it beat on the tin roof with a ratta-tat-tat!  

The rain would continue pouring from the roof and it continued to make the sound that rain makes when it drips and cascades into more water. And with the rain falling, the wind blowing, the drumming on the tin roof, thunder rumbled.

My mother would have instructed us to set the tubs out in the yard to catch the rain water. My older brothers would have placed all of the galvanized, number 30, tubs by the well.

Porches on some houses in the South were long. It was a good thing they were. The long porch allowed us to stay and “watch God do his work,” as Mama used to say. We wanted to stay there until we were unable to avoid getting wet. We would scoot back, trying to stay dry, every time the wind pushed the rain farther and farther up the porch, until finally our backs were against the wall.

We would resign and go inside the watch the rain stream down the windows. Finally darkness would settle in, we would go to bed, listening to the ratta-tat-tat until we fell asleep


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Theodore’s Yard

In the middle of the despair, dilapidated housing,

Theodore tended to life. Though beautiful, life for its

own reason was depressed and dejected. Sometimes life

rejoiced, exploded, and hope surfaced.

But on some nights, darkness ruled over life and it

could not be seen. Life was there while we all trembled

with fear, while death wreaked havoc.

Darkness fell and brought whispers and spooked life out of us;

On some nights we were without hope. The life in us cowered away

from things it could not see.

Understanding fled from life like shadows leap from light.

Darkness betrayed the life we saw and all we saw was

what we thought life was. To ask why was to sit in silence, forever.

Then, briefly, life’s fear became apparent. And we saw

 Life. And we knew the answer but we were indifferent to

Theodore who tended to life. We remained outside of life

instead of walking into life and asking Theodore to teach

us.  But the revelation was brief. Understanding

moved away quickly, again.

And those of us who walked past life looked at it

But continued to wonder and stray, trembling with fear.

Life was in hiding, hoping, and waiting for death to die.

None of us took life with us. We saw and moved away, void

of its representation.

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Lucky Lady

It was Friday, in December, I walked past a lady standing outside my office building. She was waiting for the city bus, public transportation. Strangely, she stood between a sign, leaning on the corner of the bus shelter where people sit and wait, escaping the weather. She wore a yellow-ochre colored jacket, which was dirty at the sleeves. Her skin was pale and ashen. Her face was long, like Lincoln’s. Aging lines scarred her face  and the edges of her lips.

The lady looked at me and dared me to meet her gaze. She had brown circles around her eyes and she looked at me as if to say “So?” or “What?” or “Either speak or move on, but don’t stare at me like something’s wrong.”

She raised her hand to her mouth, while looking away. She took a long pull from the cigarette. Short fingernails were the result of her gnawing at them, I thought. They were really short and made her finger tips look round and puffy..

Her left arm rested on her belly. Her right arm, which was attached to the hand that held the cigarette, rested on her left arm. She did not hold the cigarette far from her mouth. With four fingers in front of her mouth and the cigarette sticking out, she took another drag. Her cheeks collapsed inward, cheek bones pertruding, her eyes bulged out.

Her eyes were blue and weary, and weary of me. She watched me, leaving no doubt she was watching me. She removed the cigarette from her lips and her right arm fell to her side as if it was released by some mechanism, as if released from a hinge, like an axe falling. Smoke billowed all around her. I looked away, crossed the street, and went about my way.

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I Watch

I watch people. I watch and study others because I’m curious about what make people do what they do, what makes them so interesting. And, if they are interesting, I wonder about them. I wonder where the man, wearing the wire rim glasses, driving the blue Lexus, is going. I wonder what kind of person he is. 

When I held the door for the nice dressed lady, as she entered the restaurant in South Carolina, I wondered why she walked in and did not say “thank you.” I wonder why she behaved as if what I had done was nothing less than what she expected. I wonder why I didn’t say, “you’re welcome.” 

I wonder about the life of the young man, who passed me on a bicycle, singing a gospel song, loudly. 

I watch. I see. I wonder. 

I wonder whom the girl next to me, at the traffic light, driving the VW Bug, is yelling at. I wonder why she is yelling. Her hair looks a mess. So, why is she wearing dreads, I wonder? 

I wonder why the people hanging out at Ray’s Bar, on Market Street, are looking for something there. I wonder what it is they are looking for. I wonder if they know they won’t find it, if it’s love they are after. 

I wonder why the lady, a professionally dressed lady, slink away and lower her head, as I stepped into the elevator. Her hands looked dry and rough. What did she do that would make her hands so weathered and aged? “Five please,” and “Thank you,” I said. 

I wonder why this man I know seems so lonely. I wonder if he’s well and why he looks as if he is consumed with worry. And I wonder about him the rest of the day. 

I wonder what the young man, with the yellow teeth, was thinking as he walked in front of my car. I saw him again, later, outside a restaurant in Highland Square and he alarmed me. Why did he make my nerves twitch? 

From inside the restaurant I was sheltered from the rain. The man, who walked in front of my car, ran into the rain with a paper raised over his head. I wonder if he had a place to sleep. 

I watch. I see. I wonder. 

I will wonder about things the rest of my life because I find people interesting and worth wondering about.

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A Conversation with Eva D.

On the way to school, I discovered how much my daughter, Eva, can talk.

“Da Da.


“Can I listen to ThaMonk?”

“Sure sweety,” I said.

“I like ThaMonk.”

“ThaMonk” is Thelonious Monk, in case you’re wondering.

“What he playin’?”

“The piano.”

“‘member when we went to Hunta and Gracie’s house and Uncle Jason’s, and, and, and, and Hunta was playin’ the trumpet?”

“Yeah, sweety,” I said. And yes: she said trumpet.

“Hunta was playin’ the trumpet and it sounded good,” she continued.

“Did you like it?” I asked her.

“Yesh. What else is that sound he makin’?”

“Who, Eva?”

“ThaMonk. What’s that sound?”

“The piano, sweety.”

“No. The otha’ sound,” she said.

“Ohhh. That’s the saxophone.”

“Is that ThaMonk makin’ that sound?”

“No. That’s someone else. Do you like the saxophone?”

“Yesh. I like jazz. Why are you takin me to school?”

“Mommy’s asleep.’

“Mrs. Pammy pickin’ me up?”


“Okay. Can you make the jazz louder?”

“Yeah, sweety.”

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A Summer Night with Friends

Stones, about a foot high, formed a circle about six feet wide. At the center a fire burned. It was about the height of an average man, about six feettall, licked at the night air. It crackled, popped, hissed, and roared.

Children, holding glow sticks, ran in the dark. Each of them reminded me of fire flies. Adults talked briskly and laughed, and laughed, and laughed some more, being children again. Someone threw more logs onto the fire; the sparks which flew up, ascended toward the sky, burned out and went from red to black. Stars hung overhead, brighter and more brilliant than they would be if they were dulled by the city lights.

The children laughed and chased one another, playing hide-and-seek and tag. The grown ups shared funny stories. It was clear there would not be any worries tonight. There would only be fun. Mark, the husband of the hostess, Kathy, was the glue that held it all together. He was like a barker at a carnival. He stoked the energy of the crowd and prepared them to be entertained.

“Step right up! Step right up! See the Amazing Fire Man make fire without charcoal.”

Strangers became friends and teased each other as if they’d known one another for a life time. Airplanes blinked in the night sky, stars shimmered, but the satellites were nowhere to be found.

Inside the circle of stones, which was inside the circle of friends, which were inside the out-lying fruit trees, which were inside the trees at the edge of the yard, which were inside the corn field, which was inside the surrounding darkness, was the fire, where like moths to a flame, tired children came to sit in the laps of their parents, to rest before going home.

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Counting Hydrangeas


I don’t know why we started counting them but the three of us were all in. The sun was out and the clouds stayed away, off in the distance. I was driving. We passed several country homes, next to the road, on hilltops, and some even farther away. We were going to buy blackberries. Some man I know, who knew we were looking for blackberries, told us where to go get some. So, windows down, we left town, and took Hwy 125, passing farms, cows, horses and tractors.

 “There,” my wife said, waving and pointing, “there’s one. Wow! They’re so purple” At first it was just pointing out hydrangeas. Then, we started counting them. We moved right along and for whatever reason I began to drive slower than the posted speed limit and I made sure to stay right of the double center line.

 Her arm hung out the window as Iexited the main road and took a less traveled one. I drove about a country mile where we saw two hand painted signs, pointing us to where the man I know told us to go for blackberries. “They’re da’ best. They’re big n sweet. There’s nothin’ like’m ,” he promised. We passed the first signed which was propped on a stick next to the road. It read: Blackberries. U-Pick. Drive around to the back.

 I pulled the car to the back, as the sign had directed me to do. Rain trees, with their pink flowers, were on our left; blueberries, azaleas, and blackberries were to the right. Cars and trucks that came before we did, this day, had worn down the grass, driven it back, and pushed it below the dirt. Dust billowed behind us as we passed.

I drove past another sign. It read: Load trees and leave money here. A large coffee can was nailed to a post, beneath the sign. A horizontal slot was cut into the can for us to deposit our money. Below the can was another sign. Hand picked blackberries under the shed. There was more written and a can was nailed beneath it.

 I parked the car.

 My wife got out and walked toward the house, which was beneath a canopy of trees. I think I said something like “be careful.” I can’t be sure. She looked back at me and nodded. She smiled and I knew blue eyes were sparkling behind her sunglasses, which rested on the bridge of her nose, above a constellation of freckles. She walked out of the sun and into the shade of the trees. A breeze caused her blouse to flap. I thought I heard it make some sort of sound, a soft popping sound that clothes make when flapping in the wind. 

 The house rested in absolute shade. Every tree’s branch was entwined and provided shade as thick as could be. Sje knocked on the door. A man answered the door. They talked about blackberries, I presumed. The conversation was short but long too. He followed her back. She pointed at the blackberries which were already picked. The nice Southern man waved to me. I got out of the care and shook his hand.

 He was friendly but he talked a bit too much. “Weh y’all frommm?” That was the beginning of a barage of question and comments. Perhaps he was lonely. Perhaps I didn’t care to become too friendly with a stranger. I can’t be sure. I was ready to go. I loaded the blackberries, paid the man, and left.

 I pulled ahead and turned around a tree, made my way back to the dirt lane, and went back to the main road. As I drove, my wife rinsed the berries using bottled water. She passed one back to our son. He devoured it and asked for more.

 “Mo behwees, peez. Mo behwees.” He was reaching out, as children do, opening and closing his hand. My wife rinsed some more and gave them to him. He shoved them into his mouth and the juice stained his cheeks and shirt.

 Before then, I’d never paid for blackberries. To see the delight on my son’s face, I will gladly do it again. My wife held her arm out the window. It moved at the wind’s will. Sunglasses and blue eyes, looked away.

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