“Hurry now, hurry! Run, get your pillow,” your great grandmother Mamie commanded us. “Scoot yourself under the table and I’ll bring the candles. One should not trifle with Indiana storms.”
“Sitting on a pillow kept us safe from lightning,” Grandma told the story with eyes wide open and her voice hinting of a quiver. “The table protected our small heads from roof collapse, and candles were an imperative, especially when the electricity shut off as was like to happen in the early years of the 1900s.”
Thanks to Mamie, Grandma survived many treacherous tempests so that the cousins eight could gather at her feet on the front porch of the old cottage and listen to such tales. Oh, she may have survived those tempests physically unscathed, but there was no doubt about the psychological toll. Storms scared the “pea wattle” right out of her.
Within an hour’s time, an idyllic summer day could turn into a churn of leaden clouds, snarling thunder and spitting jagged webs of wicked fire across a sky, on our lake in the upper Midwest. Grandma knew this. She eternally stood guard, scanning the skies for hints of betrayal as we frolicked from dawn to dusk in the sweet smelling waters that lapped the seawall.
It was on just such a beautiful day that my cousin and I asked to take the pontoon boat down to Waco Point – not much farther than a good stone’s throw away from our cottage, but just the sort of adventure two teens needed on a mid-summer day.
Away we went, putting along the shore just outside the buoys marking the swimming area. We thought we were just grand. We two cousins expertly docked at Waco landing using two half-hitches snugged tight on each pylon, and stepped to the pier to check out the pulled-taffy inventory and any lake friends who may also have escaped parental purview. Two nickel-taffies later – one orange-striped and the other green – we untied the boat, pushed her away from the dock and headed back to the cottage, since none of our friends were around and the crotchety woman at the counter was not worth a chat. Besides, gusts of wind were beginning to sweep the lake into ripples and we thought it best to get home.
Before we were half-way back, those leaden clouds began to roll up from the horizon, and right on cue Grandma marched down the seawall, her arthritic finger aiming who knows where as it did when she wanted to make a point. She was in a tiff, alerting the entire lake shore to impending disaster. I was at the helm and couldn't hear what she hollered across the swimming area we were so neatly skirting.
“Cut the engine, Gram’s mad,” my cousin yelled.
I did, and another kerfuffle of muffled angst skimmed toward the boat.
“What? She said what?” I asked, glancing tensely at the rapidly advancing billows. Our blue-sky day had disappeared. The dreaded rumble and killer-lightning would soon be upon us.
“She says we have to get out of the boat!”
“Get out?” I asked in disbelief. “But we’ll be at our dock in two minutes.”
“Grandma said ‘get out’!” my cousin screamed at me, now quite nervous.
Out we got, plunging into chest high waves and hanging tight to the dock lines as we leapt. Heaven forbid we should lose the boat. Then we would have Grandpa and the Dads to contend with, too. The cousins two now trudged the lake bed, pushing the aluminum boat toward the home pier. The leaden turbulence crowded ever closer, thunder barked, and threads of lightning threatened to fry us right there in plain sight.
I often wonder about my grandmother’s wisdom on that day. Pushing and heaving madly we maneuvered the boat to the dock, tied her up, and sprinted for cover as the skies broke open. In retrospect, those cousins eight might have become the cousins six, but as I said, storms scared the “pea wattle” right out of Grandma.