A Summer’s Rain
“We’ve got to hurry,” said Grandpa Jake, “a storm’s coming. Look at those clouds.” He pointed skyward at the fast-moving, changing weather. A summer storm would soon drench the streets and us.
Jake was sent to Hyde Park on the monthly errand to pay the electric, gas, and water bills. Grandma told him to buy oranges, too. As we were leaving the house, she put money in my pocket for paper dolls and an ice cream cone. Grandpa and I quickly passed Mike’s Barber Shop, Abe Liss’s Flower Shop, and McCrory’s where I had spent my pennies. Jakie cut short the small talk with people he knew.
Taking my hand in his rough palm, he wrapped his fingers around mine and guided me along the sidewalk. We took the shortcut leading down and away from Main Avenue. From those steps a path skirted by neighborhood houses with front porches and gardens protected by white picket fences. The lots sat high and flat above Luzerne Street traffic.
“Grandpa, when I get home I want to cut out my paper dolls.” My skinny legs wanted to run but grandpa walked slowly in his Sunday shoes.
We started across a wide field that had enough space for a garbage dump. The outer path was worn by footsteps, bicycle tires, and wagon wheels. A mound of rubbish filled the center of the field — rusty bed springs, tires, broken toys, cabinets, and old mattresses. Sheets of newspapers caught the wind and became airborne. Dogs, cats, and rats ripped open bags of kitchen garbage and feasted.
On Saturdays a man burned the trash. He lit small fires and stirred the flames with a wooden pole. Sometimes I would go to the edge of the field to watch. I especially liked the flame colors as the daylight dimmed. Flickers of fire and charred bits eventually melted to mounds to red and black embers. Pockets of light gave the dump a magical glow.
“Hurry up,” said Jake, “the clouds are getting darker.” Jake’s feet didn’t have the hurry of his youth. I easily kept the pace and kept quiet. The wind blew through his unbuttoned suit jacket and whipped at my overalls. Raindrops began to fall — small and gently at first.
“Suzie, you go on ahead. I’ve got something I have to do. Alone. Just go on,” said Grandpa in a shooing voice.
Walking along the path was fine. I could move closer to the trash and take a better look. I might see something like a good doll and come back for it later. Pushing hair out of my eyes, I turned to look back. Grandpa Jake put the bag of oranges on the ground. His trousers were at his knees. He squatted as raindrops rolled down his back.
The wind rushed colder air over the field. Dark clouds raced each other to deliver splats of rain to the tops of my red sandals. “Hurry, Grandpa. The lightning’s getting closer.”
Thunder roared. My mother always said the booming sounds came from St. Peter rolling the barrels. Beer barrels, I guessed.
Jake looked around for a piece of loose paper to wipe his soiled part. He fumbled with his trousers and tightened his belt. Raindrops speckled the brown paper bag holding the oranges. Small drops at first, then larger. The rain softened the paper as drops blended into larger and larger dark brown spots. Jake took shuffle steps toward me, tucking in his shirt at the same time. He was mumbling to himself and held the bag the same way Grandma gripped a chicken’s neck before she wrung it on a Saturday afternoon.
The storm soaked the paper and split the bag. Oranges rolled like balls on a pool table. They scattered across the dirt picking up bits of grit that stuck to their skin.
“Gramps, I’m getting soaked,” I complained as I walked back in his direction. “My paper dolls will be ruined.” We bent to pick up the oranges.
Grandpa Jake took off his jacket and folded it into a shape round enough to hold the fruit. The rain pelted us, and drops splattered mud on my white socks. My blouse and pants stuck to my skin. It took a while, but all the dirty oranges were gathered into the suit jacket. The bag with my paper dolls went on top. With heads bowed, we walked into the wind. I peeked after every few steps to see how close we were to the side gate. A few more houses, and then the only two people crossing the dump would be out of the rain.
“Don’t tell what happened on the field,” Grandpa whispered as he unhooked the gate latch. “It was the rain that made us late.”