It’s been raining for the last couple of days. Nothing special in that, it happens occasionally, but it got me to thinking about ‘rain stories’. As I’ve mentioned before, I grew up in Louisiana so there was plenty of rain when I was a kid. Because of the way the weather patterns work there you can get a lot of rain in the summers. Occasionally, you get it every day for a month right around 2:00 in the afternoon. It might otherwise be a perfectly clear day until a shower rolls across the land. A shower might drop an inch or two of water in 30 or 40 minutes and then be gone. The rain would be so heavy that the water would form a clear sheet as it flowed off of the gutterless roof. Cars on the road would pull over until the shower passed… there’s not a windshield wiper in existence that can handle rain like that… and those that didn’t were glared at and considered unsafe drivers
After the rain passed the heat of the day would return and the whole world would take a steam bath. I remember vividly the steam rising off of the asphalt on the two lane highway that ran past our house. Sometimes it would be so thick that people would have to slow down.
One of the things that I missed a lot when living in Chicago was the rain. Oh, it rained in Chicago of course but it was nothing like back home. It was almost never a hard, soaking, shower but more of a weak, spitting, misty rain. On the occasions when you would get hard rain in the mid-west it almost never lasted for very long.
So the stories…
I remember being seven and playing in the rain in our back yard. The back yard was covered with trees so there was really no grass to speak of. The water would sheet across the ground and gather in small rivulets as it flowed down the slight hillside. On really warm days, if there wasn’t any lightening mama would let us play in the rain and we would build tiny earthen dams to block those rivulets. We would start the dam and then franticly reinforce them as the water built up. After a time, reinforcement took more dirt than you could gather quickly and the whole thing would let go.
During the hurricane this year I remember watching the news as experts reviewed a levee that was "going to let go at any minute". During the interview they cut to the local manager who said in a voice thick with Cajun influence, "Nah, cher, she’ll hold. We just need to get a little more dirt on ‘er". He was right, it held. Years of backyard dam building experience at play.
I was 15 that year. My father took me on a hunting trip and we camped out with several friends in the middle of Kisatche National Forest. It rained hard one night. The rain only lasted a few minutes but I remember laying awake for hours listening to the sharp "pop" as water dripped off of the trees onto that tightly stretched canvas.
I was in the National Guard then. For those that don’t know, every year the National Guard (and the various Reserves) spend two straight weeks on active duty. Most places require those people to burn paid vacation for this so that’s a lot of missed family vacations.. next time you see a Guard or Reserve member thank them for that. Members jokingly call the yearly period "summer camp"… it’s anything but.
Occasionally, instead of the daily showers in the summer you get a "real" rain. A real rain is one long steady rain that can last for days interspersed with periods of very hard rain. We were good at it and for a while you could keep most things dry but after week of that the water would seep into every crack, soak through the canvas of tents and drench every inch of everything you owned. The only "dry" thing you owned was inside an MRE bag which is, thankfully, where they put the toilet paper.
This particular "summer camp" we had solid rain for a week. We were in the woods in central Louisiana in a "make-believe" war. We had set up our base and dug foxholes in a perimeter around that camp. We each spent 4 hours on guard duty in a foxhole. That time was spent alternately improving your position and bailing the water out of the bottom with a coke can. The rest of our time was spent doing our "normal" job from a field position. After a while we were able to make the foxholes mostly waterproof believe it or not. Ask a member of the Louisiana National Guard if you want to know how to make a waterproof foxhole cover out of sticks and pine straw.
One evening early in the fist week I was on guard duty and a very heavy rain started. The rain was so thick that being in a defensive posture meant nothing… you couldn’t see ten feet in front of you anyway. I was franticly bailing the water out of my foxhole when my sergeant crawled up to the hole, flipped over on his back and lay staring up into the rain. I stopped bailing and leaned up against the side of the foxhole near enough to him to hear anything he said over the roar of the downpour.
He said, "Jinks."
I responded quickly, "Yes, Sergeant?"
"Need anything?", he asked.
"How’s everything going?"
"Little damp, really", I yelled over the noise..
"Yeah, this humidity can be a bitch" he said as he slowly got up and wandered off.
1991, Saudi Arabia, right after the war kicked off
I was on CQ duty which means "Charge of Quarters" but is really, "gopher for the first Sergeant". I was sitting at a desk digging the good bits out of an MRE and listening to the rain pound on the tin roof of the shed we were using for an HQ.
The First Sergeant, a rangy black man from somewhere in South Louisiana, came through the door soaking wet and I jumped to parade rest.
"Son OF a bitch!", he bellowed. He saw me standing there and said "at ease, carry on" without thinking about it and then continued his diatribe.
"Ten Years, Jinks. Ten God Damn Years! Do you know what that is Jinks?"
"No First Sergeant", I responded.
"That’s how long it’s been since it rained in this shithole Jinks! Ten fucking years. It aint rained in ten damn years so I’m thinking hey, cool, we can finally get some fucking training done without getting wet. Ten years and the boys from Louisiana walk into a fucking war zone in a fucking desert and it start’s fucking raining. Can you believe that shit JInks?"
"No First Sergeant"
"Well, look. That prick S1 from Ohio or some shit just called me in and asked if the rain would affect us. Do you know what I told him Jinks?"
"No First Sergeant"
"Exactly! I told him, ‘No!’. I told him, ‘Sir, these boys sleep in the rain. They live in the rain. They love the rain. We’ll be fine.’ but he want’s to be sure. So tomorrow we’re taking extra care to get wet for his dumb ass. You make sure that we have a few guys stand around in the rain for awhile and then go track mud in the S1’s office. If you can come up with a reason to get that prick out in the rain himself make it happened. You know the drill, just like we train every year. I’ll be in my office."
With that he slammed his door. I could still hear him mumbling to himself through the door with an occasional, "Ten Years!" stuck in.