photo by Jane Bell Goldstein
Severe Summer Storm
by Richard Simmonds
The storm was already roilng miles away
when the bus came to pick me up
for day camp. I must have been six or seven.
For lunch we ate in a screened-in
room, full of tables and benches,
sixty of us boys, nine counselors.
College students. Some older
because they had been in The War.
Because of the storm
we spent the morning
in the porch making baskets
by gluing popsicle sticks into a pattern.
Four or five older boys had their heads together
over a chessboard at one end of our table.
When it was time for lunch
we put away our crafts and games
set the tables, brought out our food--
soup and sandwiches. Now it was raining hard.
The lightning and thunder answered each other more quickly.
Our counselor had just come home
from The War. He’d been in the North African
theater, a pilot, and was going to college
in the fall.
When his mood was right and we’d
pestered him enough,
he would tell us about the missions he’d been on,
bombing Nazi positions.
We were in the palm of his hand.
He told us about his plane,
a P-47 Thunderbolt. We could have built one.
He’d told us about it in such detail.
As he talked the storm grew more severe.
The wind picked up and blew through the room.
The rain heavier, we had to lower
the canvas shades and batten them down
in order to keep dry.
The thunder boomed
and the lightning flashed
even more closely. He said that meant
the storm’s center was coming near.
Then lightning struck a huge oak tree
right outside a corner of our lunch room,
so close to the corner that it seemed
to support that side of the porch.
after the blinding light and the deafening boom,
screaming, the tree shattered
breaking up into thousands of splinters.
When we finally looked at him,
Jack, our counselor, had his head
in his arms on the table
and was sobbing.
When the lightning struck,
something within him cracked.
What had held him together snapped.
We gathered around him,
hugging him, holding him,
but as young boys,
we had no idea
what had hurt him so.
Later that same summer
with my grandmother
at her summer cottage
blocks away from Lake Erie,
another severe storm
came in from the north.
My grandmother was a kid
at heart, eager for adventure.
We drove in her Packard as close
as we could get to the lake.
The slightest wind puts Lake Erie in a churn.
So the waves were high,
the wind strong. The thunder’s loud cracks
and the lightning flashes
spelled each other
closer and closer.
We rushed back to the safety of the cottage
to listen and watch the storm.
The next morning early
we walked down to the lake.
During the night
the storm had spent
itself or moved on.
A rubber dingy had washed up on the shore.
—three people dead in it.
Killed by lightning. I remember
clearly all of their hair
We talked about it,
and I told her about
the oak tree splittering
and Jack crying.
When we got back to the cottage
and were eating breakfast,
she stopped, put her fork down
and pushed her plate away.
“You must put these things
away till you are older.
They are too heavy for you now.”
Tears in her eyes.
I figured she was talking
to herself as well as me.