Rain is always in our conscience
By Cathy Collier —
It’s a four-letter word that gets almost everyone’s attention … and it is certainly on the lips of most people you see each day.
We need it. We want it. We say to each other, “Let it rain.”
Just a small sprinkling and the grass wakes up, the wildflowers decide to bolt into bloom and gardens start to sprout.
A brief ozone-filled thunderstorm generates more excitement than the circus coming to town. We run to our porches, peek out the windows, go out into the front yard and throw our hands skyward.
It’s not just a relief that, on that particular night, we won’t have to artificially water the grass or the garden. It’s the feeling, as it is falling, that the earth is getting a facial — like the trees are laughing.
The smell — it’s just heaven. Room deodorizers that bill themselves as “rain fresh” can’t even come close. The fresh earthiness fills our nostrils and we breathe it in like a heady perfume.
We turn to a channel that’s talking about the weather — just to hear more about the rain — or we turn off everything electronic and just soak in the sound of rain on a metal roof, water flowing down the rain gutters, drops spattering the sidewalk and turning into little rivulets that head toward the street and that greater new river beyond.
One night — Mother’s Day 1957, to be exact — puffy cotton ball clouds filled the skies over Lampasas, Texas, and, as we drove back from my grandparents’ home in the country, we were excited at the thought of a good, soaking rain to flush out the creeks, help newly-planted crops to grow and nourish grass for the cattle to graze.
Soon it started. The rain came — and continued to come all that evening. Not gentle rain but buckets of rain. Soon the gutters were flowing full and the rain kept falling — inches and inches of rain poured on Lampasas County and on the headwaters of the Lampasas River and Sulphur Creek.
Through the night the rain continued and unknown to me, sleeping soundly in my bed, my dad kept getting up, watching the water fill the streets and then start to creep slowly toward our house. My parents soon weren’t sleeping at all and could hear the sounds of water nearby in the downtown area. They could hear yells and screams from people on other blocks. My dad put on boots and waded out into the night to see if he could help.
That night the water flooded downtown Lampasas, washing cars into trees, filling businesses with whole trees and debris, rising to a line about 10 feet from ground level in many stores.
When I woke up early the next morning, the water was mostly gone but the town would never be the same. School never resumed that year. The school I attended, just three blocks from my house, had been filled with flood water. The whole community got tetanus shots. The smell of rotting food, dead animals, vegetation and things I didn’t dare imagine was inescapable. Soldiers from Fort Hood came to help clean up. The National Guard came. Those whose homes escaped the water (ours among them) pitched in to assist those who had not been as fortunate.
My mother spent the summer helping her aunt and uncle clean up their flooded home. My dad came to help out after work each day and they assigned me the noble task of playing (read: out of the way) on the untouched second floor. And while I might have been away from the muck, no one could escape the smell of wet dead things that permeated the entire town for weeks.
As a result of that terrible night back in 1957, dams were built and conservation measures taken to prevent something like that from ever happening again. The same town that flooded that night was also a part of the larger area that experienced a devastating drought in the early 1950s — something we can more easily identify with in today’s conditions.
The heat each summer was devastating — and air conditioning was just a dream for most people. Crops couldn’t grow; cattle couldn’t eat. The land was parched and bone dry. Even a cloud or a hint of the smell of rain drew excited comment.
People in metropolitan areas experience water rationing when rain is scarce or flooding when too much water is around but they don’t seem to feel the effects in their daily lives nearly as much as those of us who live in more rural settings.
We in Central Texas or the Hill Country know better than most just how much our lives are linked to water and the effects of too much, too little or just enough. We pray for it to start. We pray for it to stop. Rain is a four-letter word. So is life.