The world when touched by rainbows

When I was a city child my summers were filled with rainbows. Or so it seemed to me. I was the unofficial watcher on my street and after a soft rain, when I spied a spot of color in the sky between the tall apartment houses across the street, I would race down the block calling, "Come quick, there's a rainbow in the sky."

My playmates would stop their games or gather up their jacks and marbles to join me. We would race up the steps of the stoop into my apartment house, whose roof four stories up was the best vantage point for watching this miracle in the sky. Mrs. Nolan, catching the breeze from her open ground floor window on the right, would wave to us as we passed.

I remember the pungent smell of tar, still sticky from the recent rain, which covered the floor of the roof and the clanging of the heavy metal door as each adult and child came through. Mrs. Kusick, who could always be found on the roof hanging diapers on the lines stretched across one corner, would lay down her laundry basket.Even Mr. Galento, pale and skeleton thin, who lived on the top floor, would painfully come to sit in his folding chair. a wispy smile would flutter across his face and he would murmur, "So nice -- so nice."

My mother would arrive, breathless from the climb from the first floor, and her tired face would become young again as she raised her eyes to the sky. No one spoke. Mothers shushed their children. There would be sighs, low "my, my's ," and then as the lovely spectacle faded, the grown-ups would speak softly. "that was the nicest one," or "How many have we seen this year?"

They would reluctantly leave except Mrs. Kusick and Mr. Galento. I always lingered, thinking that if I concentrated on the colors and the curve of the bow they would be imprinted forever on my eyes. And in the confining days of winter I would conjure up these images and draw bow after bow of glowing yellows, scarlets, blues and lavenders in my copybook. I knew nothing then of ". . . prismatic colors . . . caused by the refraction . . . of the sun's rays in drops of rain." To me a rainbow was magic, and I dreamed of finding the place one day where it touched the earth.

That was a long time ago. I don't see many rainbows now. Once from an airplane I glimpsed a patch of one and the cry of "Come quick . . ." almost rushed to my lips. While the other passengers read or slept I twisted and turned in my seat, trying to recapture a lost dream in the sky.

Recently I stood on a dock along a city river watching a rainbow half concealed by warehouses and factories and of such muted colors I had difficulty keeping it in focus and alive. Would the smog and pollution banish forever this enchanting sight? I wondered. There were two small boys at the dock busily tinkering with rusty wheels and rough boards. I impulsively called to them. "Hey there -- have you seen the rainbow in the sky?" One boy raised his head and looked up. Then he lifted his arm and pointed a finger at the now disappearing bow. "Pow!" he said, "Bang, Bang, Pow!" and turned back to this work.

I like to believe that somewhere, maybe in a meadow or on the bank of a stream, after a shower, a youngster is looking at the eastern sky waiting for that magical moment when it is transformed into a thing of beauty.

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