Southern Scribe
    our culture of storytelling

 

Porch Tales    

 

 
     Porch Weather
 
     by Ulmer Speed
 
 

Weather fixed the pace of our lives when I was five years old living in Sand Flat, Missíippi.  To us weather was one-dimensional; weather was rain Ė rain wet the fields keeping us from planting and plowing. 

The rains of spring and early summer started before daylight on a cold morning and continued for days at a time Ė timid rains Papa called them.  These cool drizzles didnít wet us too badly if we just ran straight to the barn to feed up or dashed out to the rear of the house to get an armload of stove wood.  We had no other reason to go out otherwise, but if we did stay out for any time at all the slow rain would soak us to the bone.  Once wet, we had to spend the rest of the day huddled behind the kitchen stove drying out, trying to rid ourselves of the chill.  Even if we didnít get wet, we spent the day in the house as near the warm stove as possible.  To be sure these spring rains coaxed the corn and cotton from the ground but they also freed that hateful Johnson grass, which if left unchecked pestered our crops into a half harvest. 

Summer rains, on the other hand, gave us porch weather.  The porch protected us from getting wet when we didnít want to get wet, but getting wet sometimes was the only way we had to cool off from the heat on a summer work day.  Usually these downpours overfilled the creeks enough to leave flotsam and snake slobber high in the bushes growing along the banks.  Sometimes these rains caught us in the open but usually the warning of darkening skies and rising winds was enough to send us to the shelter of the house or the porch Ė or under the porch if you were five years old and lived in Sand Flat, Missíippi.   

If my cousin Doug happened to be at our house when the rain started, we ran the dogs and chickens from under the porch and claimed it as a dry-enough, if dusty, playground.  We built entire communities with roads and houses to resemble farms with ponds and creeks to add realism.  We diverted water from the big puddle that collected over by the front room chimney to provide for our many water projects.   

Aunt Flora, Dougís mama, usually peeped under the porch to admire our work and invariably cautioned us about snakes that she said lived under houses.  She said that snakes den around the base of chimneys right where we played but mama held that divine intervention protects fools and small children so we continued our play under the porch as long as the rain lasted.  

The sound of rain on our tin roof told us when warm weather changed to cold.  Summer rains spattered when it hit; the drops would walk onto the roof, walk off, come back again, and move around like a mouse in the wall. Sometimes a late summer rain brought on a cold spell that prompted us to a false start on winter; we would light a fire in the fireplace and have to let it die out two days later when warm weather came back.  The rains of winter seemed more determined, however, with the drops hitting the roof harder, more solidly, making more noise.  We used the dry firewood stored on the porch to warm the house during those chilly mornings that turned warm by noon.  But when the winter rains came demanding a fire be started and kept all day we were forced to burn the wet wood corded behind the house.  Mama would get up several times during the night to put wood on the fire to keep the house warm and to dry the wood I kept stacked by the fireplace. Iím sure that she needed her sleep but starting a fire with wet wood on a cold morning didnít appeal to her.  She chose to sacrifice a little sleep to keep the fire going.  

Late in the winter the rain-soaked ground would freeze causing spew-ice to push up through the loose red soil looking like formations of little short men dressed out in transparent britches.  When the sun eventually broke through the clouds, the icemen retreated back into the ground leaving their cocked, dirt top hats to decorate the landscape with mottled patterns scattered amongst solid undisturbed earth.  Before going out to crush the ice spews with my bare feet, I dutifully donned my heaviest shirt to satisfy mamaís admonishments to dress warm.  I donít ever remember owning a coat and I know I didnít own shoes until I started school.  I suppose the cold never reached my body as it moved from my feet up my legs because I never got sick.  After all, I wore overall pants and that heavy shirt as protection.  The clothes didnít shield me from getting wet, however; but even a five-year old knew enough to not stand out in the rain.  


The author is Mr. Ellis Ulmer Speed, a 1970 engineering graduate of Mississippi State University.  He currently works for the Defense Technology Security Administration in Alexandria, Virginia. 

His e-mail address is ellis.speed@dtra.mil  

 

© 2003, Ulmer Speed, All Rights Reserved