Thunderstorms

It’s an August Tuesday afternoon, and I’m at work. It’s not yet 4pm but it’s nighttime-dark outside, thanks to a thunderstorm that’s passing through the DC area. My office is on the 15th floor of a high-rise in downtown Bethesda, MD, and whenever dramatic weather comes through, I can see it from my perch high above Wisconsin Avenue. To the south, beyond the tower cranes that transform the skyline, I can see the National Cathedral, the Washington Monument, and can also spy close-in Rosslyn, Virginia in the distance.

Our lobby faces the other side of the building, and as I walk through it’s still daytime there. As we listen to the still-distant thunder, a coworker asks me if I remember thunderstorms when I was a kid. We traded memories about how, if the storm was close, the adults would make us sit in the middle of a room – not too close to a window – while we waited for the storm to pass. She was speaking of her grandma, but I thought of my mom.

This caused me to remember things I haven’t thought of in many years, but with my mother’s passing just last week, some precious memories come rushing back.

Rosemary hated thunder and lightning with almost the same zeal she invested in hating cold weather, which is to say, quite a lot. She would fretfully pace from room to room, stopping to look out each window, counting the seconds between lightning and thunder.

One time, when I was a kid, she was pacing as a storm approached, brow furrowed, and, sensing her concern, I followed her, wanting to see whatever it was that was causing her such angst. But once she realized I was following her, she turned it into a game, just to see how long I would keep doing it. It wasn’t long until I figured out she was messing with me, and we had a chuckle. She teased me for years thereafter about how she “got” me good.

During thunderstorms, we were to stay out of the kitchen and bathroom, away from water faucets. Under no circumstances were we allowed to bathe or shower. To soak in the bathtub during a thunderstorm was to risk certain death by electrocution. I never quite understood exactly how the lightning might find its way inside our home to the bathtub (through the chimney? Like Santa?) but mom assured us it was possible, and therefore, better safe than sorry. Only in cases of most dire need were we permitted to use the toilet mid-storm.

She would also chase us away from the piano – something we normally spent lots of time playing. Apparently, she said, such a metal-filled instrument had the potential to lure lightning out of the sky and into our living room.

Perhaps she had watched “The Wizard of Oz” too many times as a child, but a particularly greenish sky on a summer afternoon meant mom was likely to usher us to the perceived safety of the cellar in our old brick farm house. The cellar held our furnace, water softener, deep freezers, shelves for canned goods, and was home to many, many spiders. Its floors in the dank front (underground) rooms were cool, compact earth. In the back room there were concrete floors. This room contained a few windows and a door to exit to the ground level, which was below the main-level back porch. We referred to it as “out back.” We would stay in this room watching (but not close to) the window, waiting for mom to deem the storm far enough away to return to the main level of the house.

If mom determined the storm was not of Kansas-like intensity, we would still turn off and unplug most electric items (including the TV and its antenna rotor, the stereo, and some kitchen appliances) and shut all the windows. Then we would gather in the family room, where we grabbed decks of cards to play solitaire – sometimes each to her own game, but more often, two or three of us would play with common aces in the middle. We would rush to see who might “go out” (be first to get all your cards up to the aces in the middle) first, and we’d end up racing and laughing as we frantically slapped our cards around.

Last weekend, as I was clearing out things from mom’s desk and dresser drawers, I came across one deck of cards I remember her using many years ago. I’m not one to save a lot of things just for sentimental reasons, but her hands spent countless hours shuffling and dealing that deck of cards into game after game after game of solitaire, and I don’t know how I could possibly get rid of it. I wonder if she eventually forgot about those cards at the bottom of that drawer, or if perhaps she placed it there, knowing my sister or I would come across it when we had to go through her things after she was gone.

In the time I’ve spent writing this, the storm has moved off to the east, and I can once again see the Rosslyn skyline in the distance. Mom would have hated this storm, but I’ve liked it, because it made me remember things about my her and my childhood. We encouraged mom to write down some of her memoirs, and I’m so grateful she did. I wish I could show her this one, even though doing so would be to risk additional teasing about that time I followed her around the house.

 

A Charlie Brown Christmas

Vince Guaraldi Trio Charlie Brown Christmas Album Cover

This right here is my favorite thing. I’ve probably listened to the whole album ten times since Thanksgiving. It would be great holiday jazz even if it didn’t make me think of the Christmas special.

There are so many good clips from “A Charlie Brown Christmas” but the one I love the most is this:

Kids, ask your parents about how when they were your age, this “special” would air once during the weeks leading up to Christmas, where “special” means something other than regularly scheduled programming, and “air” means that we had to check the TV listings in the newspaper (the what?) to find out which day and time it would be shown, and on which network, and we had to watch it at exactly that time because there was no DVR or streaming or on-demand or YouTube in the olden days of yore.

I tried making my boys watch this a few years ago. I was so excited to share it with them. They thought it was dumb. And maybe it doesn’t hold up all that well. I’m willing to admit that my hypernostalgic feelings compromise my ability to view it objectively. But you can’t take this away from me.

When I was young, the Peanuts gang was as much a part of our family as the Brady Bunch was. We read the daily comics, we ordered the Peanuts cartoon books from the Scholastic Book Club, and we eagerly awaited the airing of the holiday cartoon specials. They were a cultural phenomenon almost without equal.

Anyway: If you haven’t listened to the album yet, there’s no need to drop the needle on vinyl – you can stream it! Here’s a link to it on Amazon Prime Music – free to listen if you have Prime. It’s also on Spotify, but I can’t figure out how to put a link to it here. Which could be related to my hypernostalgic feeling about some crudely-drawn cartoon from the 1970s.

Merry Christmas, Charlie Brown!

 

Flashback Friday: Second Grade

Miss Numer's 2nd grade 1974-75
Can you pick out Soupy Meg in this composite?

I found four elementary school class photos in a box of stuff this week.  The one above was second grade in the paleolithic era 1974-75.  The teacher, Miss Numer, recently retired from 40 years teaching second graders in our school district.

Sadly, Miss Numer died from cancer a few weeks ago. The online guestbook from her obituary includes comments that reflect the lasting impact she had on countless children, including the kids of some of her first students:

The year was 1972, and I was so excited to find out that I would have Miss Numer for 2nd grade… I can still see her long wavy red-orange hair molded around her gentle face and big glasses…29 years later, my daughter had the honor of being taught 2nd grade by…Miss Numer. …What a blessing it has been to have our lives touched by her.

Joan ‘Miss’ Numer had a huge impact on who I am today, as well as all the other students she impacted over her forty years of teaching. She entered my life as my second grade teacher. I always remember her as a kind, caring, and truly dedicated teacher who would do all in her power to ensure her students’ success.

My daughter and I are fortune to call Miss Numer our favorite teacher. Her ability to make each student feel like the most important person in the room for 40 years is remarkable.

I can’t help but remember how friendly, calm and admirable Miss Numer was. Not only was she teaching when I was in grade school but my son had the pleasure of getting to know her as well.

I myself have vivid memories of her classroom. It was situated at the top of the stairs, next to the girls’ bathroom, in the “old” elementary school building.  I can picture it as plain as day, though the building’s been gone for decades.  I remember beginning to learn cursive in her class. I also remember the life-lessons – no pushing in line and all that.

In high school, I joined a club geared towards encouraging students to pursue teaching as a career. I was lucky to spend time assisting Miss Numer in her second grade class. Although the elementary classrooms were now located in a brand-new school building, Miss Numer was the same teacher I remembered.  She took great interest in nurturing students throughout their school years.