Drawn To a Downpour's Exuberance

The other day, with little warning, there was a cloudburst. My son and I were in the house at the time, and I, at least, was content to watch the show from warm and dry quarters. But suddenly, before I knew what was happening, Alyosha burst through the door and ran out into the backyard, his arms extended, his face turned heavenward as he spun happily about in the heavy, driving curtains of rain.

And then I did something that still puzzles me. I ran to the door and yelled for him to come inside. "You'll get wet!" I called out ridiculously. "Get in here right now!"

My son only smiled, as it was clear that he was already soaked to the skin and wasn't going to get any wetter.

What was it that compelled me to react with alarm to a boy relishing a downpour? Now that I think of it, this could be one of those markers that separates child from adult: In times of sudden rain, adults scurry for shelter, while children jump for joy and stand their ground.

I remember, as a child in New Jersey, monumental cloudbursts accompanied by thunderclaps that shook the windowpanes and expansive bolts of lightning that scribbled their way across dark, boiling skies.

During those summer storms, we kids would walk the streets until the cuffs of our jeans were dragging under our heels. Sometimes we'd get off a game of stickball for the added excitement of whacking the ball in tandem, or sometime coincident, with a rumble of thunder from above. During all of this, our parents were separated from us by porches or storm windows, gazing out at their progeny - their water babies - and placidly accepting the counsel of their years, having no more inclination to run out into the rain than to swing from a tree limb.

The more intense and spontaneous a summer storm is, the shorter its duration tends to be. But sometimes this theory is put to the test, as it was one day when I was about 12. Rain had been predicted, but not the protracted, relentless downpour that took place.

The streets became rivers, with currents coursing purposefully along the curbs, taking all manner of objects with them: sticks, newspapers, balls, a windblown hat, all of it carried to wherever it is that rain freshets go.

And, of course, we kids went wading into the ankle-high water as well. For a city kid, it was like having a river come to your doorstep, a gift of cool respite from a hot, sticky summer. Eventually the water got as high as our calves, and one of my cousins and I, already soaked clean through, were inspired to inflate our bright-yellow, Navy-surplus two-man raft. We set out through our urban neighborhood, paddling door to door. As we passed through romping groups of other children, they waved to us and begged for rides.

As for the adults, they stood or sat out on their island porches and stoops, high and dry, shaking their heads at us, feigning disdain, although who's to say that somewhere deep inside they didn't envy us our ride?

And then, sometime during high school, all of this stopped. I, too, became one of the "drys" - a rain-runner who seeks shelter when the first chill drop falls onto the bare, sensitive skin of the back of my neck.

All of this came back to me while watching my son do his rain dance out on the back lawn. I watched as his sopping clothing hung about his lean, washboard body like wet laundry thrown over a fence. I settled back onto my heels, composed once again, harboring a bit of regret for something - whatever it is - that I had lost in the transition from boy to man.

And then, suddenly, he was yelling out at me. "You're chicken, Dad!" he taunted through a bright smile. "You're too chicken to come out!"

That did it. Girding myself, I kicked off my shoes and tore out through the door, catching my son after a chase of only a few minutes. And I held him tight as both of us laughed in the rain.

Perhaps, as has been said, you can't go home again. But it's sometimes nice to visit.

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