Donnerwetter

I’m on my couch, listening to the rain beat down hard outside. I am thinking of my grandmother.

My grandmother loved storms. Donnerwetter, she called it – one of her occasional shifts back to the German she grew up speaking at home as a first-generation American. She loved to sit out on the back porch on an old chaise covered in brightly-colored ’60s flowery vinyl and watch the lightning. She’d open the front door to smell the rain, though I’m sure that made my cost-conscious grandfather crazy during the summer (when storms were best) while the window unit air conditioner hummed behind the solid wood door.

I remember, as a child, sleeping in the back bedroom of their old duplex in Philadelphia during visits, worrying that lightning would strike the window unit in the bedroom I was in. Even as a kid, I was a worrier. It stood to reason, to me, that a window air conditioner would serve as an attraction for the blue-bright streaks of light that arced through the sky. I was not afraid of storms, and I was not afraid of lightning. I was only afraid of the lightning hitting the air conditioner, and the fire I imagined would start after that.

Well, that, and the really creepy shadow cast by the Infant of Prague statue that stood atop the highboy dresser in the glow of the nightlight below. It’s probably bad to hate a statue of Jesus. Oh well.

When I was little, my mother used to gather Sisters 1 and 2 and me and we’d all watch any storm that came through. Sometimes it was on my parents’ bed. Sometimes it was on our back porch. I think she did it to make sure we weren’t afraid of that particular power in nature, and I’m glad, because to this day, I’ll stand out on my balcony in a fierce squall to watch it happen. When I lived in the midwest, I rarely feared the systems that frequently threatened tornadoes. After a long enough time living there, I learned to know what color the sky had to be before a twister could ever approach, and when it turned that color I simply went inside and into the basement. (My father sometimes shot baskets at the hoop in the driveway, for which we all thought he was crazy, but I now believe he was keeping watch.) When I was in college, I was the one who watched the TV weather reports to spot the bow echoes that could give rise to the fearsome whirls while my roommate, a lifelong midwesterner, locked herself in the bathroom.

I’ve been thinking a lot about my grandparents lately, all four of them, all gone now. I’ve had several dreams about my grandfather who passed away in February. He’s been scattered between the nightmares I mentioned in my last post, looking strong and well and ten years younger. He doesn’t seem to want to tell me anything, or visit, or convey any significance. He just shows up in little vignettes, and when I remember I’ve dreamed about him, I smile.

About an hour ago, I blew out a candle that had reached its bottom. In the heavy air, the scent of the wax lingered longer than usual. It reminded me of holidays with my other grandparents.

I miss them all. I’m glad of the little things that remind me of them in our day-to-day lives. And I sleep better when it rains.

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