My dad read clouds. He had no training in meteorology, but he could tell me when it would rain or be nice. His heritage as a farm boy helped turn his eyes to the sky. He was not the biggest of the four kids, but he was still expected to work out in the fields. He even did his share behind the mule and plow. It was as important then as now to plan the day based on the weather.
When I was seven years old, dad read the clouds and could tell a tornado was brewing. He got home in time to make sure we were sheltered before the tornado hit. It was very close. All the doors in the house were banging open and shut as the air pressure changed around us.
Two years later on a fishing trip his eye to the sky mentality probably saved injury or death as we barely beat another storm to safe harbor. My dad loved to fish. Many weekends we would load up and drive about an hour northwest to our lake house. It was a simple building with a kitchen and bathroom on one side, a large screened in sleeping porch in the middle and French doors opening into a small bedroom on the other end. That spot on the lake was heaven for us kids. We had fantastic neighbors all around us. Our closest neighbors were a wonderful couple. Jack was head of a department at the college. His wife, Fran, was one of the sweetest people you would ever want to meet. They had a real lawn stretching all the way down to the lake and always had large hammocks hung between the trees. There were usually fresh baked cookies at their house. They even had air conditioning!
That fateful afternoon, dad and I loaded the sixteen foot aluminum boat with our bait and poles. He pulled the starter rope on the Evinrude outboard, and we cruised off toward the north end of the lake. There was a certain area with a lot of dead snags that was home to some big bass. Dad was a patient fisherman. He liked to fish with very large shiner minnows. He figured it would take a big fish to swallow a minnow that large. We would often fish all afternoon in that hot boat. And he could catch some monster bass.
About four o’clock dad pointed out some clouds on the horizon toward the southwest. He said to pull in my line because there was a storm coming, We needed to get off of the lake right away. I could see some dark clouds that seemed far away and not very threatening, but did as he asked.
The motor fired up, but the boat was not moving. The prop had sheared the pin. A shear pin is used on some boat propellers to protect the motor and drive gear should the propeller hit an obstacle. The pin shears before damage is done to the critical mechanical parts. Without a replacement on board we were dead in the water with a storm approaching.
He always had paddles in the boat, but it was a long way back to the boathouse. Luckily our dear neighbors were also out fishing in their boat about one hundred yards away. After a lot of yelling and waving back and forth, they finally understood that we wanted them to come to us. To say they were very leisurely in their approach would be an understatement. Several minutes later they putted over to our boat.
Dad tried to convey a sense of urgency pointing to the now very dark clouds moving rapidly our way. Jack and Fran (not their real names) were a very talkative couple. Dad was growing very impatient with them. They could not understand the imminent danger. Finally, he very bluntly stated he wanted them to tow us back immediately.
Jack started his little boat. We threw him our bow line, and a sense of relief set in. I could see how concerned my father was with this storm bearing down on us. At least we were on our way.
On our way might be a bit of an exaggeration too. Jack was not in any hurry. We moved at little more than idle speed as he laughed and joked pretty much to himself. My dad was not in a laughing mood. Dad kept telling him to speed up. At one point, Jack turned his boat around and was pulling us with his boat backwards. He was yelling “Chico! Chico!” and having a grand time. He was a professor in foreign languages.
Even I could see danger in the clouds now. A lightning show had commenced with rolling thunder accompaniment. The hot late afternoon sun was obscured with boiling green and black clouds.
Dad was at his limit. I had never heard him cuss anyone out like that before, but he sure did that afternoon. Jack got the message and throttled up his little outboard. It took another five minutes of towing at full throttle, which was not very fast for his boat, to get close to our dock. But it was too late.
I did not see it coming because I was focused the other direction, toward our dock and boathouse. The storm swept across the lake behind me with wind whipped waves and a curtain of rain.
We were about fifty feet from shore when the wind hit. It struck us broadside and blew us off the lake and ten feet onto dry land. I stepped out of the boat onto the ground and started running for the house dodging falling tree branches as huge ice cold rain drops pelted my head and back.
Dad stayed back to make sure Jack and Fran were going to be okay. It took them four tries, but they finally made it safely into their boathouse.
That storm made a huge impression on me. Did it teach the college professor neighbor? I know he and his wife had a big scare. I am an admitted weather junkie now. I want to know the how, why and when of the clouds.
I continue to be surprised at the number of people who live in isolation from their surroundings. The ear buds and iPhones might be connected, but we have lost that immediate connection with our environment. It is still important to keep an eye to the sky and an overall awareness of what is happening around us. What about that strange car parked in front of the house. Maybe we should drive by and take a look before we open the garage door. Maybe we should pay attention to long range forecasts, particularly those of us in coastal areas. And maybe we should look up from what we are doing occasionally to check the horizon.