We had a cloudburst in my neighborhood today. I love that word - cloudburst. You can just picture those big, fat black clouds rolling into view, so heavy with rain that they burst open like a stack of overfilled water balloons. I stopped what I was doing inside the house and walked out onto the deck to watch the cool curtains of rain slapping down onto the trees and grass and macadam. It’s July in the Northeast. We have been enduring a heat wave, days of hot and humid weather that weighed us down with too much of a good thing. The rain was welcome, a cold front moving through noisily with donder and blitzen. This cloudburst was just the precursor to the real show, which would start later, after the day got ripe and steamy. The brief downpour brought with it that special smell of cool rain hitting warm earth. It’s one of those smells that remind us all of something or somewhere, the kind that makes us stop for a moment to remember.
It makes me think of being a little girl, playing with my friends on a sticky summer day, getting caught off guard by the rain, scurrying onto a porch to wait it out. A bunch of hot and sweaty little bodies hastily crowded together, out of breath from running home from the woods or the playground. We would wait restlessly for the rain to taper off to a mist, then run out to the steaming street to splash in the gutters, where rivers of water whooshed down to the storm sewers. We cartwheeled in the wet grass, tromped through every puddle, picked up drowned worms from the sidewalk with screams and giggles. We reveled in the only air conditioning we had in those days, courtesy of Mother Nature, provided by the chilly breeze that swept on through after a storm. We might finish off our afternoon playing Parcheesi on the porch, cool as cucumbers, as our wet clothes dried, never knowing that someday we would become a fond memory called up from the past by a sudden summer storm on another porch far, far away.
It is March and I am still watering my Christmas poinsettias faithfully. My aim is to keep them alive until Easter. I love seeing the brilliant red poinsettias sitting alongside the more delicate pink hyacinths and yellow daffodils that I bring into the house for the Easter season. They share the space on top of the long buffet cabinet in the dining area of my house and signal the transition from winter to spring in a floral tableau. I fell in love with the idea of Easter poinsettias when I was a little girl. My Polish granny had a corner grocery store at the end of a long row of houses on a steep city street. Upstairs she had a small apartment that she sometimes rented to temporary boarders to supplement her income. In her later years she stopped renting the rooms and used them for storage. My sister and I loved to play there on Sunday afternoons while the adults lingered around the lunch table with their whiskey and cigarettes. We would pretend that the apartment was our house, a place where we could make our own rules and imagine our someday grown up independence. At the rear of the house was a little sun porch warmed by the afternoon sun. That is where Granny kept her plants - African violets, begonias, cacti, and seedlings ready to set in her garden when the time was right. That is also where she kept her poinsettias after Christmas, letting them live as long as they cared to. It fascinated me that Christmas could linger on well past Easter and into summer, one happy season leading into the next. I loved visiting the poinsettias into their old age as their flowers faded and leaves turned yellow. It just seemed right and proper that they should have their full share of life. My grandmother was a practical woman who had no trouble cutting the head off a chicken when it was her time for the stew pot. There was no romantic reason for her to keep the poinsettias alive for so long. She had paid good money for them in November and she would keep on watering them until they shriveled up in the summer heat. I am the romantic who keeps the poinsettias alive to meet the daffodils, the aging child who can still feel the late afternoon sun pouring in through the paned glass, the air so thick and still, in the sun porch of my grandmother’s house on the hill.