"The quality of mercy is not strain'd,
It droppeth as the gentle rain from heaven."
- William Shakespeare
(The Merchant of Venice)
I suppose a week of drizzly days like the recent past shouldn't surprise us. After all the rain we've had this year there probably isn't enough moisture left in the heavens to send down a good, one-day soaking and get it over with.
Complaining to my New England brother about the unseasonable Georgia heat and soppy, bad-hair days didn't help, either. With snow flurries already falling in western Massachusetts, he'd welcome any rain he doesn't have to shovel, and all the heat he doesn't have to take out a second mortgage to pay for.
But I jest. "Rainy days and Mondays" may always get songwriters Paul Williams and Roger Nichols down, but today, as the sun returns to the sky and the earth sparkles from its cleansing, I think of the benefits of the poet's "gentle rain." Other than the obvious - nourishing the ground, maintaining water levels, and clearing pollutants from the air - I'm talking about the inner benefits, like the memories I wouldn't have without Henry W. Longfellow's "little rain" falling into my life.
Before I discovered the benefits of swimming, my daily exercise routine used to begin and end with a morning walk. One gloomy, gray morning, when rain had already started to fall, I wanted no other exercise than to pull the covers back over my head and skip the routine altogether. But I dragged myself out of bed anyway, laced up my dingy Reeboks, and took to the familiar road.
Pit-pat, pit-pat, dropped the rain on my rain slicker hood, the sound amplified by the vinyl fabric so close to my ears. Where had I heard that sound before?
Ah, yes, on a tent roof - or roofs, I decided, as memories returned like a flood.
For a couple of long-ago months, while waiting for our house to be built, our family lived in a tent. The makeshift shelter was far from plush, but it was quite roomy and adequate for our needs, or so I say now. As a young teenager, frightfully conscious of outward appearances, I didn't want my friends to know where I lived. Today I hardly remember the embarrassment, but I'll never forget the sound of rain on that roof, how safe I felt underneath, or a father who did his best to care for his family in hard times.
I spent a summer in a tent, too, working as a camp counselor on Cape Cod. Our campers usually came from cities like Boston or New York and stayed at least a month. Most of our days were filled with planned activities from wake-up call to lights out, except for the one evening each week we counselors had to come up with an entertainment idea for our own tent.
On one of those on-your-own nights, following a solid week of rain, my 6- and 7-year-olds were too restless to spend another evening lying on their cots, singing silly songs, or playing sit-still games. (They were too young to read, and television wasn't yet a household word.) So we did the unthinkable: we went walking in the rain. With yellow slickers on and "good" shoes off, we looked like a miniature fire department off on an urgent call.
We sloshed everywhere we could slosh - down camp trails, along a deserted beach, and through puddles instead of around. All the "no-no's" of my youth and theirs fell on ears deafened by the sound of still falling rain. We felt so naughty.
When exhaustion set in we returned to the tent and hung our sloppy slickers on the ropes to dry. Then, snug in dry pajamas, listening to raindrop-lullabies sing through our shelter roof, seven little girls and one tired counselor slept like babies.
No one caught cold, no one complained about the weather or homesickness and, I suspect, no one has forgotten the night the slicker brigade put the sun back into their cloudy skies.
(Barbara Seaborn is a local freelance writer. E-mail comments to seabara@ aol.com.)
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