Chicago has some spectacular summer storms. Deluges of epic proportion that will soak everything in sight, fill up all the sewers, and wash out roads all over the city. I suppose that’s not really a goal, in a big city like this, but it reminds you of how tiny you are–even in such a big, proud city like this one. Chicago might be the Windy City (literally and figuratively) and it may be this megalith of impenetrable power and possibility (or maybe for just this Midwestern girl), but the summer rains still soak it out and conquer it, and put it in its place.
I always loved summer storms, especially when I was a kid living in Nashville. We lived in this tiny box of a house across the street from a park. It was in between two hills, so that we would ride our bikes down one, pass our house, and then roll up the other. When deluges came in the summer, all the water would flow downward towards our house. We would climb up through those waters as if we were exploring dangerous, uncharted territories.
We gave name to the rivers of run-off as if they were legitimate landmarks. In our world, though, they were.
The Catholic School had a long yard across the street from us, where we had our favorite climbing tree, and a pile of old bricks that we used to arrange into cities. We had to climb up one of the hills to get around the fence, and often we climbed up through the water just to make it feel more like an adventure.
We were weird children, but creative, always naming things and telling stories about everything we did. Nothing was without a purpose or a narrative. Nothing was without some world of opportunity behind it. I think that was probably my father’s doing; he told stories that went well with the child’s imagination, and he always encouraged us to think of average occurrences within the frames of epic poems.
On days when it really was too rainy to go out, we had other ways of entertaining ourselves with the summer storms. Our tiny box of a house was also a weird, but creative, contraption.
We rented it from someone who had made all sorts of modifications to it, leaving odd things in the walls and the crawlspaces and in the basement.
On these very rainy days, the basement leaked, leaving inches of water all throughout. It seeped in up through the foundation, I think, after the ground was soaked through.
Everything in that basement was on risers, wooden box trays that we as children did not understand the purpose of. From the stairs to the washer, there were these wooden planks that kept the launderer out of the water. In order to get respite from the hot summers in Nashville, my brother and I would often go play down there.
Together with the boy next door, we built ships out of the wooden risers, and pretended to paddle them around the watery basement.
Somehow I believe we even rigged up sails out of some left over junk we found. They were, of course, risers, and not boats, and so our watercraft didn’t go very far–and of course even if they were floating around, they sunk as soon as we stood on them.
I do recall, however, a great many battles and pirate take-overs of the laundry machines and other stacks of rotting boxes. We, in our rain boots, had undertaken a hostile takeover of the sea of the basement and shown it who’s boss.
It’s odd, just how much time we spend as children, making stories out of the basic frustrations of life. I don’t think I’d have it any other way.