“Rain, rain, go away…”
I’m not a fan of that request.
“It ain’t gonna rain no more, no more…”
A demoralizing prediction.
“It’s raining, it’s pouring….”
Now we’re talkin'.
Included among the most enjoyable days at camp, along with Saturday morning’s fresh cinnamon buns and Saturday dinner’s hot dogs and French fries, the two meals out of the week’s twenty-one I could actually stomach (unfortunately, they were very poorly spread out), were the days involving cloudbursts, followed by hours of non-stop thunderstorms. During these downpours, all camp activities were officially curtailed.
“All camp activities officially curtailed” meant no “Swim Instruction” in freezing water. It meant no black-and-blue shins from being whacked there by field hockey sticks and lacrosse rackets. It meant, till the rain stopped, I’d be free of the humiliation and abuse I incurred playing every sport I wasn’t good at, which was all of them.
Rainy days at camp were the times that most closely duplicated what I did at home. Nothing. True, there was no television to watch at camp, but as the rain pelted down outside, I had time to read the TV Guides my counselors bought me on their days off, and sigh.
When I talk about a Northern Ontario rainstorm, I’m talking about Nature really putting on a show. Heart-stopping streaks of lightning. Thunder that made (the less manly of) us cover duck under the blankets. Rain that fell so intensely, we had to bring down the shutters and lock them in place, so the wind-driven deluge wouldn’t blow inside and inundate the cabin.
We felt protected in that cabin. Nature was “full throttle” outside; inside, we were warm and safe, reading comics on our Hudson’s Bay-blanketed bunks. (Trivia Answer, should it ever come up: The colors of the stripes on Hudson’s Bay blankets are black, red, yellow and green. A little public service for the readers.)
My comic books of choice were Tarzan and Uncle Scrooge. Though he was no “strange visitor from another planet” and lacked a “Utility Belt”, Tarzan could do anything other “superheroes” could do. But naturally. Superman could fly; Tarzan could fly too – from vine to vine. I liked that Tarzan’s special gifts didn’t come from some external force, or because something bit him or he accidentally fell into a vat of something. Tarzan was a totally normal human being. Who happened to have been raised by apes.
Uncle Scrooge was obsessed about money. Definitely a hero.
How else did we fill our time on rainy days? We wrote home. “Please send pretzel sticks, not the twisty kind. And red licorice, not black.” We always included that we missed them. But it was hard to tell if that was sincere or if we were angling for a salami. It was probably a little of both.
We played cards. We started with “Go Fish”, then graduated to Blackjack, Casino and Gin Rummy. (I had a counselor once, named Phil, who was so proficient at Gin Rummy, that while he was playing me, he’d always take the card in his hand that he knew I needed for “gin” and he’d turn it around to face me.)
If the counselor was clued in to the impending inclemency in the weather, he might check out one of the camp’s limited inventory record players and selected recordings, so we’d have music to comfort us through the thunderclaps. Preferences generally leaned towards the folky arena. Harry Belafonte’s Calypso was a popular pick. As was The Weavers on Tour. Some campers requested the original cast album of West Side Story. It was a more innocent time. You could like musicals and all it meant was you liked musicals.
My favorite rainy day entertainment by far, however, was a series of spoken-word recordings called, I Can Hear It Now.
Narrated by legendary journalist, Edward R. Murrow, who tagged them “a scrapbook of sounds”, the records introduced clueless campers to the spoken highlights of an earlier time. The discs came in sets chronicling different eras. The set I remember best covered 1932 to 1945.
It chilled me to hear these historic events brought alive through the voices of the actual participants. Roosevelt intoning, “We have nothing to feah…but feah itself.” King Edward the Eighth, choosing an American divorcee over the British throne, unable to carry on, “without the help and support of the woman I love.” Lou Gehrig’s Yankee Stadium shattering farewell, where he claimed, despite his “bad break”, that “I consider myself the luckiest man on the face of the earth.” The emotional reporter, crying “Oh, the humanity!” as he witnesses the airship Hindenburg exploding into flames. A gruff-voiced announcer calling Joe Louis’s redemption in a monumental rematch:
“Schmeling is down. The count is five…”
Recalling listening to those memorable moments in time as the rain came slamming down around us still gives me the shivers. To paraphrase the title
I can hear them now.
Rainy days were idyllic times for me, a carefree and regenerative interlude, whose spell could only be broken by the saddest three words I could possibly hear:
“The sun’s out.”