Mack Williams column: Constant rain and old wives’ tales

  • Posted: Monday, July 22, 2013 5:58 a.m.

I know that it wasn’t a consecutive, 24/7, 40 days and nights Biblical rain, but concerning what had lately been taking place at cloud level and below, I was beginning to wonder if somewhere “higher up,” there had been a change in plans, altering the Biblical covenant of that “bow” set in the sky.

It seems like we are now back to the standard summer weather forecast which always says: “A chance of late afternoon thundershowers every day.” Over many past weeks (probably not as many as it seemed) the weather consisted of steady rain lasting a good many whole days and nights, and on other days, brief storms appearing frequently at all hours of the day and night, some of them even providing a morning “kick-off.”


On July 4th, the Danville Symphony performed Tschaikovsky’s 1812 Overture. In that group, my son Jeremy is a percussionist. (His Uncle Joe has been one for most of his life.) With those storms’ rock-solid dependability over the many weeks, I felt sure that one of the “thunder poppers” would show up and perform the part of the cannons at the end of the 1812, but predictability fell through, and just like some over-priced, fickle pop singer with a “quasi-throat” problem, the lightning and thunder “failed to show.”

For the past weeks, North Carolina and Virginia had become a moisture-laden world, both above and below. Every overcast sky seemed more ominous than usual, with recent experience dictating that the potential promise of precipitation would be fulfilled. “Spotty rain” became replaced with “spotty sunshine.” One day, a “spot” developed into about an hour’s worth of noonday sunlight, so brilliant in contrast with what had become the norm that everything became a bright blur to me, and I felt like one of those weak-eyed Linville Caverns’ fish that had discovered a small tributary to the outside world.

In addition to the increasing, ongoing, voluminous “first-hand” rain, it naturally followed that there was also a greater amount of rain encountered “second-hand,” what I like to call “tree-rain,” those lingering bough-trapped drops later shaken loose by the wind. I had felt them while walking along a tree-lined avenue, and had also experienced them one night on the way to my car. Of course, in comparison with “first-hand” rain, “tree-rain” is very limited in scope, being encountered when passing under the only place where it naturally occurs: a tree.

The over-saturated cemetery ground adjacent my home, along with the shadows of great trees enclosed there by the old WPA-built rock wall, seemed to provide the perfect conditions for the growth of toad stools, “turkey-tail” shelf fungus, “witch’s butter” jelly fungus, and “fairy rings,” but I never saw any of them appear among the graves. Perhaps fungus and mold were there, but thriving somewhere out of sight.

I remember seeing snow globes in wintertime (and at other times, since that snow doesn’t melt), but it seemed like we had lately become enclosed in a multi-state, Southeastern U.S. “rain globe.” It was almost like the environment of a “drippy” terrarium that houses frogs, newts and other amphibians. At the Danville Science Center where I work, when telling the younger children about different animals’ body coverings, we inform them that amphibians are covered with moist-wet skin (and on some of those recent days when I had forgotten my umbrella, my skin had become just as “moist-wet” as that of an amphibian (my clothing, too).

Of course, I had seen rain before, and quite a lot of it, especially when the remnants of hurricanes (Hugo) had sometimes tracked up through North Carolina. I had also survived the town of Boone’s annual spring “monsoon” while at Appalachian, but there is one thing which I had never seen in such frequency as I did during those Carolina-Virginia “Rains of Ranchipur” (a great movie; check Amazon) and I will tell you now.

A few weeks ago, and over the course of just a couple of days, I saw something seven or eight times here in Danville, the frequency of which was so rare during all of my previous years of life that up until that week, only the fingers of one hand were sufficient to number it’s cumulative occurrence (don’t worry, I also learned the proper manner of doing arithmetic years ago at Granite Quarry School).

There was and is an old wives’ tale (though men have repeated it as well) stating: “If it’s raining and the sun is shining, then the Devil is beating his wife!” For the most part, I only hear this saying now from people whose age extends in a certain limited radius on either side of mine (62); and if this old “maxim” is not being “taught” anymore, the youth are missing out on a bit of colloquial culture.

What I observed those multiple times during the course of that week was this: I was driving, with a temporarily brief, partly cloudy sky above me, my windshield in sunshine. All of a sudden, I saw drops of water on that windshield. My immediate thought was that a hose had burst somewhere beneath my hood, or that my radiator had suddenly started spewing water. Not seeing any warning lights coming on, I looked straight up through the top of the glass (keeping one eye on the road) and saw the source of the drops, a small black cloud. (I then remembered another “old tale” having to do with some people being “followed around by a black cloud,” but quickly put that one out of my mind.)

After this had been repeated over the course of those couple of days to a total of eight times, the thought came to me that the air had become so humid that even the littlest clouds had become saturated and would “drip” in a half-sunny sky.

Knowing how stressful these modern days can be, and how stressful the strange weather was being on all of us, both the good and the bad of us, I thought back to the “old wive’s tale” about the devil mistreating his wife. The thought occurred to me that the Devil, being of an even more “non-exemplary” nature than even the very worst of us, had apparently let the strange weather and the stress of modern-day living get to him to the point that he was increasingly taking it out on his spouse, revealed over and over for all to see by the repetition of that evidential sign: “raindrops falling in the sunshine!”

I felt that the Devil’s wife did not deserve this, no matter how poor her judgement had been in the choosing of her life’s (eternity’s) mate!

I had worked with some battered women in my years as a social worker in Caswell County. There was one whose head was put through the sheet rock wall of their living room by her husband. Thinking about way down where the “Devil family’s” home is, the “sheet rock” there is most likely “basalt” (even denser than Dunn’s Mountain granite); and its density is such that it holds up the crust of the continents, so it wouldn’t be much fun for somebody’s head to go through that!

You can take the old boy out of social work, but you can’t take social work out of the old boy! Following what I had seen in the sky that couple of weeks, I said to myself that if I continued to see much more of the increasing tell-tale evidence of the Devil’s spousal abuse during that freakish weather, I was going to place a cellphone call to social services and report him myself! I had also decided that if social services had given me the customary option of remaining anonymous, I was, instead, going to leave my name and contact information, just in case they needed to call me back.

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