Thrice in my otherwise idle life I have been a spectator as the awesome wrath of Zeus wrought frivolously in my unwilling vicinity. The first time was the best, and it dissuaded me from a career as a physicist, like Benjamin Franklin.
Three of us - Phil Craigh, Newt Jordon, and I - had gone to Cushing's gravel pit to get a load of gravel. We had Newt's truck, and we wanted the gravel to smooth the footpath in the rock garden our triumvirate had just laid out for my mother. The quantity of gravel we would shovel would amount to 10 cents, which I had in my pocket and would place in the bean pot left at the gravel pit by Mr. Cushing for that purpose. Mr. Cushing used to say it was the only bean pot he knew of that had put four boys through college. As we were shoveling, a thundershower interrupted us, and we took shelter in the truck's cab.
As we sat there and the shower's intensity built up, our limited space gave us little opportunity to exercise. So we drifted off into meditations, and soon Phil Craig said, "Lookit that popple, there."
Through the very wet windshield we could see the poplar tree at which Phil was pointing, and we could see it well enough. "What about it?" asked Newt.
Phil said, "Well, did you ever see anything like it?" It was a poplar all right, and that's a popple, and it was maybe eight inches in diameter and it stood by itself on the top edge of the pit's banking. There was no other tree near it, but a lot of seedling bushes. Phil said, "Whatta-y spose happened to set that one tree off by itself?"
It was a good question. But before the three of us could arrive at independent conclusions and respond, Ol' Zeus let go with one of his Olympian fastballs, and he put it right down the pipe and connected. That popple tree simply disappeared.
The snap of the strike barely preceded the shock of the thunder-bumper, and by that time the whiff of brimstone had reached us. Phil Craig said, "Well, so much for that!"
The sun soon shone, and we got to pour our gravel. The experience did impress me, and I decided Benjamin Franklin was a nut. I have never flown a kite during electrical season. Come to think of it, I've never flown a kite anytime. I don't own a kite.
In the old Down East marine records, there is a story about a vessel leaving New York for Australia, and an hour or so after clearing New York Harbor the ship was struck by lightning. A hasty check found no fire and no damage, so the vessel kept on going. But soon it was discovered that the lightning had magnetized a cargo of pig iron in the forward hold, and this showed up by the rotation of the compass needle, which was in a constant ring-around-the-rosy.
It would be only a few months until the compass could be fixed in Australia, so the master continued the voyage rather than waste time returning to New York. By lashing the compass to a plank and running the plank overside to starboard, they could lower a hand from a spar in a bosun's chair and get a reading. No great problem. At any rate, the ship was only three weeks late to Australia. Hence, while a lightning strike is unpleasant, its effects are not insurmountable.
Some years before the gravel-pit exposure, I had seen a bolt of lightning strike the Curtis house, next down our street. Not related to us, or anybody else close by, Mr. and Mrs. Curtis lived in golden-year serenity and were called Grampy and Grammie Curtis by the town. We, the children of this narrative, had been at our several important childhood endeavors and were chased into the house by an instantaneous summer shower. We arrived inside dry as a bone but with wet shirttails, and we were sitting on that side of the room so we could see the Curtis home through the pelting rain.
Lightning came in plentiful assortment, and the thunder was a continuous bumperingo. The bumperingo was punctuated by wocks as bolts came close, and we would say, "Oh! That was a good one," and, "Oh! That was another good one!" And then came the granddaddy of all wocks, and before our very eyes the top courses of bricks in the Curtis chimney lifted into the air and flew energetically away in all directions. That was indeed a good one, and it was followed by a huge puff of soot that rose from the chimney into the rain without hesitation. We young-uns were too surprised to speak or move.
Then the woodshed door opened, and Grammie Curtis came out to look at the chimney. Then Grampy Curtis came out to look at the chimney. Then they both looked at the chimney some more and went back in the house.
IN this way, we knew that Grammie and Grampy Curtis were all right. We didn't know, until later, that the lightning had blown the flue from the chimney thimble in their kitchen and distributed accumulated soot throughout their home, or in other words had cleaned their chimney whistle clean.
You'll hear people say it's funny what a streak of lightning will do. Funny odd, but not funny ha-ha. My third experience was the other night when lightning hit in my relaxed vicinity while I was giving my attention to a small serving of strawberry ice cream before donning my jammies.
I wasn't ready for it. It took advantage by sneaking up. The fire engines came, and spectators, and it's certainly funny what a streak of lightning will do. It didn't do anything. The firemen couldn't find it, and all I could tell them was some gibberish about an oak tree falling on Mount Ida. They said good night.