Robert Hitt Neill
Your Subtitle text

March 2012 StormCall


Robert Hitt Neill                                                                      March 2012


          As everyone knows, this is the Storm Season, at least here in the Mississippi Delta.  One of my favorite authors, Earnest Gann, wrote in his Fate Is The Hunter that there’s only one other place in the world that airplane pilots fear for the suddenness and intensity of its thunderstorms besides the Mississippi-Arkansas-Louisiana Delta, and that’s someplace around India, I disremember where because I ain’t figuring on ever going there, and the book is downstairs.

          We’ve had two humdingers in the past week, too.  The first one was forecast to bring tornadoes, with all the lightning, thunder, wind, and rain that accompanies such a squall line when the front comes through.  I was ready for it when it was approaching Brownspur late that afternoon, standing on the west balcony.  I pulled out my cell phone and hit speed-dial for Nawth Caihlinuh, where son Adam lives.

          He picked up immediately, almost as if he expected the call; maybe he did.  We’ve been doing this for each other for decades, even though we’re now about 700 miles apart.  When I answered his “Hello,” with, “Man, I wish you were here with me right now!” he knew there was a storm front coming in, that I had checked the barometer only moments before, that my “baro-receptors” – the broke bones that reliably predict such weather events without fail – were liniment coated, and that I was probably standing on the balcony ready to give him a play-by-play.

          This kid is over forty now, but when he was still in diapers he was afraid of such storms; at the first clap of thunder, he’d be standing next to our bed, wanting to be between Daddy and Momma until the scary part was over.  He was already in bed the night we watched the ten o’clock forecaster predicting a front, and when I cut out the lights I could see flashes of lightning in the southwest.  On a whim, I shrugged into my jean jacket, filled my pockets with gingersnaps, snagged two Dr. Peppers, and wrapped the boy in a blanket to carry him to my pickup.  He slept until I pulled up a few miles south onto an old railroad dump facing the front, cut the ignition and lights off, popped the tops on the drinks and handed him one of the old-fashioned hard cookies.  “Looka there!  Wasn’t that pretty?” I declared.

          For an hour, until the first raindrops hit the windshield, we watched the finest Heavenly Light Show that God ever produced: cloud to ground bolts that sat and shimmered, fuzzy yellow-green balls that danced between clouds, sparkly spiderwebs of lightning that lit up the entire horizon, rare “space lightning” fangs that shot upward instead of downwards.  He’s joined me in my addiction.

          We’ve sat in a pickup on a turnrow so close to huge bolts of electricity that our neck and arm hair stood on end and we were deafened briefly.  We’ve toasted incoming fronts from the balcony at Brownspur when he lived upstairs here and had called me up the spiral staircase when he saw the signal flashings in the west.  When I’ve been on the road for speakings or signings, he’s called to share a storm in all its glory, just as I’ve done for him when he was college or working away, as now.  “This’un’s got some classic lighting bolts,” I enthused, dodging.

“Durn!  How close?  I heard that’un!” he returned.

          “Other side of Jim’s house,” I replied, ducking involuntarily.  “There’s one where our road hits the Tribbett Road: Boom!  Uh-oh, that one musta got Rick’s house.  The wind line is coming from the northwest, and it’s lighter behind it, but the clouds are racing up from the southwest in front of the shear.  It’s almost over the Mammy Grudge now, and there are tendrils sticking down.  They aren’t really rotating individually, but there’s rotation in the cloud they’re hanging from. Whoa!  That bolt must have hit a tree on the ditchbank.  Okay, the shear line is directly overhead now.  Wow, I bet it just dropped twenty degrees, and now here comes the rain – wait, it’s not all rain – there’s sleet in this’un.  Not quite marble size.”

          We might be crazy, but I backed inside to close the storm door to continue my commentary.  “I’ve seen Him in the lightning, heard Him in the thunder….”