I love rainy days. Always have. When I was a kid, some of the best hikes, the best camps, the best explorations I ever had as a Boy Scout were in downright downpours. There’s nothing like traipsing out in it, getting through those first few minutes of going from warm and dry to soaked, thus being freed to stomp about in the biggest puddles and study the routes the water takes as it runs off seeking the ocean.
As a high school band student, I loved the way music deepened the mood on a rainy day. Sequestered in a back corner of the band room as a low brass player, I’d cradle my upright tuba and put my ear up to the mouthpiece. Those precious and few of us kindred spirits who love the tuba know our horn to be the world’s greatest hearing aid — an amplifier beyond comprehension to the uninitiated. From far away on the back row, I listened to raindrops pattering on the flat-roofed building, and eavesdropped as the cute girls with flutes and clarinets on the front row whispered about their current crushes.
Older now, I live for rainy days and those few moments perfect for cranking up "Adagio for Strings" by Barber. Many hearing it for the first time believe it to be classical, but it’s actually the contemporary theme heard in Oliver Stone’s movie, "Platoon." When performed by a brass quintet, the effect of the melancholy is overwhelming.
The day before yesterday our neck of the woods was blessed with a steady downpour. For hours I sat with the doors and windows open, listening to the rare, steady drumming of rain on our tin roof, which was rapidly approximating the sound of Anna Ruby Falls at Unicoi State Park when the water flow is normal. Not so loud as to be alarming, not so soft as to disappoint, just nature’s way of providing a perfect definition for the word "peaceful."
As Barber’s magnificence softly complemented the symphonic sound of last Friday’s precipitation, memories flooded in nearly as fast as the water coursing over the baked red clay of my back yard as the runoff made its way through my neighbor’s driveway to Big Flat Rock, the Indian Creek Golf Course, the Alcovy River and Jackson Lake.
The best football practices I ever held as a coach were in such downpours. Winning and losing a game, or the success of an entire season for that matter, can turn on how comfortable players feel handling the wet pigskin and slogging through muddy quagmires. On days such as this, if chemistry on the staff was right, the adult coaches would lead the boys out into the slop and belly flop right down into the mire to set the tone for practice.
Contemplating the opening of the 2009 football season, I remembered an obscure group of kids from our town’s old Cousins Middle School and wondered, as Barber’s magnificent melody soared upward along with my fondest memories, if those now 40-something-year-old men recall winning a championship in 1979. Facing Booth Junior High from upscale Peachtree City on a muddy field in the first round, my Cousins boys belly-flopped in the slime during warm-ups to the point where numerals on their jerseys were illegible. Meanwhile, our opponents tiptoed around puddles on their end of the field. We scored twice as they mishandled the wet pigskin and went on to win the league title.
Subsequently, Georgia was parched by drought in the 1980s, leading to the construction of the Lake Varner reservoir. One of my happiest memories is when a torrential rainfall broke that drought; my children and I washed my old pickup in the downpour, cavorting and laughing as madly as if we’d been rescued from the middle of the Sahara Desert.
Yeah, I do love rainy days. They free me to study the course political water takes around and through crucial issues facing our nation today. They allow me to stomp through the puddles of partisan politics and splash aside rhetoric which muddies a clear view of where the firm footing lies.
As I wrote this column, Barber’s lingering melancholy, heavy as the droplets still bombarding the tin roof, reminded that those who ignore history are doomed to relive it.
People who successfully handle things when muddy and wet are more apt to successfully manage when warm and dry. And those who would tiptoe around the muck, refusing to get their jerseys dirty, have no business even being on the field of play.
Nat Harwell is a long-time resident of Newton County. His columns appear regularly on Sundays.