Monday’s storm reminded me of a childhood memory that my mom and I were just laughing about on my recent visit to their home in Virginia.

On Monday, I spent a busy day working at home and needed to take a quick shower before heading to a meeting. Apparently, Mother Nature heard me think “shower” and decided to show off, perfectly timing herself to my intentions.

As the rain began to fall, lightning started popping uncomfortably close to the house. So close, in fact, that there was no time for counting the seconds before the thunder let us know, in no uncertain terms, that we should be concerned, very concerned. The windows rattled and we shook in fear, nervous for what it all meant.

By we, I mean Hansel and Gretel and I. Hansel was concerned enough for all three of us, pacing frantically while sticking very close to me, panting as though he were running a marathon. Gretel, who isn’t quite as quick-witted as he, bless her heart, followed him back and forth, growling at the thunder as though she might have influence, seeming to figure she should at least try, though she wasn’t sure why we were supposed to be concerned.

The rain was no less forgiving, falling in literal waves, blowing to and fro like sheets on a clothesline, sure to break free of their tether. In all the commotion of the motion, water began to leak in under the glass door of the front porch that is the dogs’ area. I, the one in charge of cleaning it up, was most bothered by that development, though I have to admit I also jumped each time the thunder clapped.

And then the power went out. That instantaneous moment of silence and dark that causes your brain to say, “Whew, I hadn’t noticed how loud and bright it was in here,” right before it begins to rapidly process the numerous implications of this new development. I needed a shower, of the hot and cleansing variety, and the sharp and unexpected version outside was cramping my style.

As I stood in the middle of the living room in the dark, debating if it was safe to get in the shower, I was reminded of what the younger version of my mother would have said, were she here to contribute to the decision. That younger mom still speaks to me in my mind, doesn’t yours? So ingrained are the lessons learned, no matter what other wisdom has come behind them.

When I was a child growing up in Tucker, we didn’t have air conditioning and carefully controlled the temperature of our home with the strategic use of an attic fan and open windows. To this day, I still wish to relive the feeling of lying on my stomach in my bed at night, fresh out of a bath, with the breeze from the window at the head of my bed blowing across my face as I fell asleep listening to the attic fan whir and tick. The cadence was intoxicating and the breeze was so refreshing. That single giant fan would draw cool air into the house throughout the night and well into the morning, until Mom knew it was time to turn it off, as the outside air warmed and began to kill the cool we had achieved.

When a storm brewed up on those summer days, my sister and I would cringe. Mom was terrified of lightning back then, and the emergency response system of our household required all hands on deck to prepare the house for maximum lightning security. All windows had to be closed, all appliances unplugged, and any loose items in the yard or carport had to be secured, because who knew how bad it was going to get.

We then had to sit, patiently and warmly waiting for the storm to blow over, anxiously listening for any signs of tornadic activity because any level of catastrophe was possible and we must be prepared for the worst. Hence the fact that there was no way in the world we were allowed to get in the shower, or sit on the toilet, or go near the sink because it was a well-known fact that lightning would find that water, sure as shootin’, and knock us dead, sure as shootin’.

And so, as I stood in the living room debating my much needed shower, I grappled with a nagging concern over “what would momma do.” I had no choice, of course, and the windows that now live constantly closed and storm window-covered to preserve the air-conditioned air of a modern world would surely prevent the entrance of the persistent bolts seeking purchase outside. I took my chances and have lived to tell the tale, thank goodness.

On my recent visit to my parents’ home in Virginia, I sat with my mother as an afternoon storm brewed up and we debated when it would be time to close the open window beside us. She thought about it for a minute and said, “I don’t feel the rain coming in yet, so it’s OK.” I had to laugh and remind her of how afraid she was back then! She laughed to and said, “Yeah, I think I paid a little too much attention in my biology classes when I was a kid.” But, she and I both knew that she learned that fear from her mother and she passed it forward to us, and at each generation we have learned to temper those fears a bit. Just as many old wives’ tales have mellowed with time. After all, if you believe it, it must be true. And if you don’t believe it, it must not.

Monica Sheppard is a freelance graphic designer, beekeeper, mother and community supporter living in Rome.

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