'Possible' thundershowers vs. ones that get real close

The frost is barely out of the ground, but the season has advanced until our Down East whether prophets are again on their summer promise of "possible" thundershowers. Winter does spare us this dire, doleful, and lugubrious forecast, and it is comforting to reflect that I have never known a "possible" thundershower to wreak any possible damage. Well, if we get a shower the possibility is of no consequence, and if we don't get a shower at least it isn't likely we did. In my untutored youth, we went by the Ridge schoolhouse, and that was reliable, which is more than I can say for meteorology.

When the thunderheads arose to the west'ard, they heaped up in magnificent enthusiasm between the Starbird Farm and Kad Kirshner's place, which was the location of our Ridge District one-room school. There, from the early days, eager students learned to foretell a storm by holding a wet finger in the air. If the thunderheads moved to our left of the schoolhouse, they'd rumble off down the Androscoggin River Valley and dissipate. We, 500 yards away, would many times get nary a drop of rain, and summer-dried cucumbers would continue to thirst.

But if the thunderheads came up to our right of the schoolhouse, we'd get a knock-down, blow-away, rip-snorting, slam-down walloper that would send our family dog to safety under the stove. There was no possibility question about that. Many's the time I'd climb to the barn mows when such a shower was making up, and as it would be summertime and we had the gable hay doors open, I'd loll back on sweet meadow hay and watch ol' Jupiter toss off some of his best ones.

After a few trial launches, Zeus would offer a ring-tailed old clapper that would make the rain begin, and then I was lulled by the drumming on the shingles. I was never scairt of thunderstorms, but had I been terrified, like the dog, I'd soon be over it and sound asleep there in the hay. What do kids do nowadays?

The weather-prophets-of-doom have no one-room schools to help them, so in the vacancy between shower and no-shower they have found this weasel-word of "possible." I have never known of a possible shower that got here. Any thunder bumpers that intruded into my affairs have been sure things. There remains a quality of a lightning strike that overpowers, perhaps. If it goes leftward of the Ridge School, forget it.

I have told here before about Capt. Luther Minot and his extreme clipper Rosebud in the Australian boom. It was after the California Gold prosperity and Down East traders embraced the long voyages Down Under. The Rosebud, all sails drawin', left New York, going to Australia. Hardly out of New York Harbor, the Rosebud caught up with a thundershower, and a bolt of A-1 lightning nipped her at a masthead and kerjingled her peak-to-keel, stem-to-stern.

After the crew had settled down, Captain Minot ordered inspection, and it was found that the vessel had miraculously taken a direct hit without harm. There was no fire, no perceptible damage in the holds, no shattered places topside, and the rigging aloft was intact. Wonder of wonders! So the decision was made to keep going.

The Rosebud sailed, as the saying went, "by the seat of the cap'n's pants" for a couple of days, and then it became advisable to consult the compass. But the needle of the magnetic compass was going round and round like a pinwheel. The compass was no use whatever. Simple logic gave the answer. That lightning had magnetized the cargo of pig iron in the No. 2 hold. Unless the Rosebud turned back to New York to discharge the pig iron and have her compass adjusted, it'd be three months to Melbourne.

The Rosebud sailed on. To read the compass, the crew had to put it on a long plank, safely secured, and slide the plank seaward away from the magnetized metal. Then they lowered a seaman to read the compass, and he would call his reading back to the afterdeck. The Rosebud arrived in Melbourne on schedule.

If that had been merely a possible shower, there'd be no story!

WHEN I was in high school, I earned college money by working in the town gravel pit, shoveling gravel into horse-drawn tip carts for road repair. We had no shelter from rain or sun, but on rainy days we didn't work. We were four, Chester Braun, Phil Craig, Dick Marston, and myself. When a tip cart backed in, we'd stand by its four corners and shovel till gravel began to run down the sides of the load back onto the ground. Then we'd wait for the next cart.

When a possible thundershower made up to the west, we four went up the gravel bank and got into Mr. Braun's Overland sedan. It began at once to rain, and thunder rampaged in all directions, and we were convinced we were confronted with fact.

Just off the driver's seat of the Overland was a poplar tree of maybe eight inches around, and as we sat there looking at it, the thing disappeared. It simply flew away in splinters, and at the same time a clap of thunder seemed to lift the Overland about a rod, and the rich flavor of fire and brimstone engulfed us.

I recall this now just to show that I know something about possible thundershowers, and I would state without fear of contradiction that when you have one real close, you can believe it.

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