Ah, California rain—for me it is a purposeful tranquility, relieving the drought of both land and spirit, peaceful, much needed. With an early morning mist, it dissipates into the ridges of my backyard’s aged, wooden fences, hushed down from satisfied blue-gray skies. Damp tree leaves fall sullenly from once thirsty branches to the ground below. Trickling along aluminum rooftop gutters to downspouts or puddles resting atop patio tables, western rain has a way of slowing everything d-o-w-n. The freshness in the air cast behind or the cozy atmosphere it creates inside a house can capture moments of clear reflection. Find a bed, better yet, one with a thick duvet that’s been left unmade. Slither underneath a warm comforter with an engrossing book, soft lighting from an old lamp, and try to fight off the sleep. Just try it.
This is new rain. It always is, unlike the Mississippi rain that once pounded onto our tin roof in Biloxi. It cascaded unapologetically along deep, tin roof grooves down onto the edges of our wooden porch. The rain of those days was wet with childhood curiosity and things we imagined lurking alongside us as we danced in the fog or the smoky mist that trailed behind pesticide-spraying mosquito trucks. There, the summer rainstorms tried to outrun the sun daily, while the devil’s wife deep in hell below was getting a beating because of it—so my grandmother said.
“Turn the lights and TV off. Let God do His work,” she’d announce as thunder cracked or lightning streaked across an unforgiving afternoon sky. A naked light bulb once shining bright in its ceiling socket was quickly yanked by a string into submission. “Mama and Daddy Dewey,” as I called them, could either sit in silence listening to the rain, or they chatted easily. Daddy, whose eyes were green, was perfectly pale for a man of mixed race. He’d sit in his favorite, worn-out wood slat chair, lanky long legs crossed, sipping coffee from a blue and white speckled tin cup. Once again, the rain prevented him from watching his favorite character, Festus, from the TV show Gunsmoke. He and Mama would talk about who they had run into while handling business or working in town or about the family my grandmother worked for as a maid. Though her job was to cook and clean up after them, it bothered her that they had little gumption for doing more of it for themselves. The children were sometimes disrespectful to their parents, causing my grandmother to bite her tongue more often than she liked. Still, servitude had its limits, and she was known to tell them a thing or two if necessary. Stories about “The Lindseys” were always engaging.
But for me, watching rain fall outside the bedroom window was even better. Quarter-sized drops of rain splattered onto the window ledge outside my bedroom. Cohesive, little bubbles that eventually dissolved into a trickle fell down deep into the muddy ground below the willow tree, never to be seen again. Elsewhere, heavy raindrops would dance atop a rusty, fishing toolbox or linger stubbornly at the tip end of my grandparents’ fishing poles, which leaned up against the house. The poles kept company with other luckless objects left outside before a swift downpour. Sheets, shirts, and cotton dresses were quickly snatched from thick-roped lines strung between two Y-shaped wooden posts in the backyard. Some clothing still had a wooden clothespin or two intact. In the front yard, underneath the porch, dogs and whatever else dared to hunker alongside them found shelter there from the rain.
Still, inside is where the real waiting began.
My grandparent’s small, hunter green house withstood many regiments of rain, along with the storms and hurricanes they suckered into town. It sat at 512 Couevas Street, about a mile from Keesler Air Force Base and only blocks from the beach. Fairly weatherproof, two additions had been proudly hand-built by my grandfather, a dedicated lumberyard worker. Inside its four rooms during heavy rainstorms, buckets and small pots or pans were positioned in place over the linoleum floor, catching rainwater that intruded from a rusted hole in the tin roof. Daddy Dewey tackled each new hole as best he could, but just hadn’t gotten to others yet. Plap, plap, pling! as water hit heavy, metal bottoms, then plunk! as each receptacle began to slowly fill up. Yet we were kept warm and comfy inside by handmade quilts and little, portable, ceramic space heaters, despite rambunctious drops of rain or cold drafts of air that somehow stole their way inside.
Some days of window rain I spent lying quietly on the bed reading a library book, interrupted only by thunder or a rumbling in the ground that signaled a fast approaching train passing through at the southern end of Couevas. There, the tracks lay just yards from Biloxi’s Ice House. The train’s whistle left me wondering where travelers had come from and where they might now be going. Other rainy days included playing with paper doll cutouts, covering each figure with a new dress and accessories. It mattered whether my scissors were sharp enough to cut new designs from magazine pages. It was equally important to prevent folds or tears in the paper. An only child living with her grandparents must learn to find fun, solitary, and entertaining things to do while waiting out the rain.
It wasn’t until one day decades later, when I found myself lying quietly in bed reading a book, that I rediscovered window rain. Snuggled underneath the covers, I had not only watched it fall, but I heard it progress to a heavier than usual pounding on the roof. It had arrived in a rare, swift, heavy downpour, while a train whistled somewhere in the distance.
Why hadn’t I heard these sounds before now? Where had they been?
Somehow, I’d long since forgotten them both—the rains and trains, and how together they’d often kept a nine-year-old girl and her books and paper dolls company. I’d failed to recall the contentment that came from simple conversations with people who loved and protected you from the thunder, lightning, and uninvited rainstorms. I’d forgotten about a community of people who seldom feared hurricanes like Katrina while respecting those like Camille. Whether folks sheltered in place in their homes or moved to safer ground seemed to have no rhyme or reason at all. They just did or didn’t, then got on with whatever challenges the storm left behind.
Today, the Mississippi Gulf Coast welcomes its tourists. It is illuminated with restaurants, hotels, and neon casino lights from tall buildings. But our family loves remembering the little house on Couevas Street and all that she has weathered. We treasure her days ahead. The address has long since been enumerated with another number and the hull rebuilt with red brick, courtesy of the city.
But the rain still comes. It always will.
Somehow, in the years after leaving Biloxi, I’d overlooked how it feels to live with rain, the kind that drops down from thick clouds. I’d learned to live without it, that is, until a drizzle and faint train whistle out west reminds me what I’ve been missing for far too long.
I’d simply forgotten how to appreciate rain, its coming and its going.
Ah, the rains of two coasts, one sorely missed in the summertime of the South, and the other welcomed in spring or found wandering aimlessly through wintry days out West. Perhaps it isn’t only the window rain itself that I miss now, but rather the clarity and comfort of being content inside, and out of the rain that really waters my soul. Or just maybe, remembering it patiently, through the window of a child’s eyes is now what I look forward to hearing, seeing, and feeling even more.