My grandmother always knew when a storm was coming.
If we had the windows open in the house, or if we were out in the yard digging in her garden, she would smell it first.
“It’s going to come up a cloud,” she’d say, lifting her chin toward the sky, and she was always right.
Back then, there was no Weather Channel with 24-hour satellite imagery, of course, so people like my grandmother relied on their own senses to tell them whenever a shift was happening in the atmosphere.
I never questioned her accuracy. She knew exactly how long we had to get the laundry off the line before the rain came; she knew how to count between rumbles of thunder and streaks of lightning to tell how far away a storm was.
Sometimes I think it’s a skill we’ve lost.
Right before one of these summertime storms, my grandmother would hurry to get to the porch, so she could sit and watch it roll in.
I hated storms, especially the fierce ones that popped up in the summer. Deep growls of thunder shook the old windows in her house and terrified me. I kept my eyes closed when the lightning tore at the sky.
Whenever we had one of these storms, I hid on my grandmother’s bed with my head buried in her pillow, while she sat on the front porch, rocking. She loved it. It was as though there was just something in her, drawing her to this porch, to the outdoors, while thunder erupted all around and rain slid off the roof in sheets. It was as if she had a front-row seat to a full-scale musical, and she wanted to stay for the whole show. My grandmother was like that. She got enjoyment out of everything. For her, life — its sunny days and its stormy ones, too — was worth the price of admission.
Occasionally, when I was feeling brave, I’d inch out from the bedroom and make my way to the screen door, where I could watch her.
I can see her there as clear as if it were yesterday, dressed in one of her polyester pantsuits, her lean legs crossed. My grandmother was both country and elegant. She knew how to pat out a pan of the best biscuits you’ve ever had in your life; she knew how to avoid chiggers when she was picking blackberries; and she knew how to drape a strand of pearls around her slender neck and look like the most beautiful woman in the world.
I wanted to sit out there with her, but I just couldn’t bring myself to do it. Through the metal grates of the screen door, I’d ask in a tiny voice, “Don’t you want to come back in, Grandma?” And she would because she knew I was scared. She knew how to comfort me, too, her only granddaughter. That was another thing it seemed like she was born knowing how to do.
This month, on August 5, my grandmother would have been 100 years old.
I miss her so much. I wish I could sit with her now and watch for one of those late-summer storms. But, instead, I can lift my chin to the sky, and listen for the thunder, and wait for the rain.
When it comes, it’ll smell so good.