I tell this story on stages, right before I sing a song about rain. It was written on the memory of these hot August days, when the sun is scorching and the horseflies are biting.
And maybe a fence needs fixing, because it seems fencing is always done when the temperature reaches up to 90. And so you go along, but you’re missing a glove and you don’t have enough fence posts and you should have brought the bug spray because you’re so busy swatting flies you might be no help at all.
And the thorns are poking through your shirt and you look up at the sky and pray that those thunderheads rolling in over the horizon might just roll right over you, to cool your skin and send you running for cover, away from this miserable chore.
Oh, if it could just rain. Rain. Rain. Rain.
I was 12 or so, and my little sister was 7 and we went with Dad to check our cattle on the reservation. It was a hot afternoon and the ride was long, about 6 miles or so. Our horses’ tails were working hard to swat the flies and I’m sure we were stopping to pick wild plums along the way, spitting the pits at one another and taking our time. Because if Dad was ever in a hurry (which I understand now that he was, always), he didn’t let it show on rides like these. And I can’t remember if we were supposed to bring cows home, or anything about the task, but I do remember my little sister’s pony named Jerry and how that ornery little creature would decide he was done with it all and just lay down without warning, sending my poor sister crawling off, yelling “I hate you Jerry!”
And I’m sure that happened during that ride to the reservation that evening, because it usually always happened. And I’m sure I laughed at her, in true big sister fashion. And then I remember those thunderheads looming and my dad getting a little anxious about it, the heat building and brewing up what looked to be a big storm heading for us. And so we started for home as the sun sank below the horizon and the claps of thunder felt like they were slapping right at our backs.
Dad was nervous, I could tell that, but he calmly told us to space out to help avoid a lightning strike and then went through the rules of what to do if we got separated or lost along the way… let the reins go and your horse will take you home. She knows the way…
But I was 12 and had a few years of experience on the back of my mare, and so I determined this was it, we were going to die out here on the prairie, miles from home in the pouring rain. Because I’d let the reins go before, an act that became an open invitation for that mare to consume as much sweet clover as possible, not a care in the world and definitely not heading toward home.
And my little sister? Forget it. Let those reins go and who knows when Jerry would decide to get back up again.
We were doomed. That’s what I thought as we kicked our horses up to a fast trot, and then a lope, Dad turning into a dark shadow we followed as the sky turned midnight blue, releasing big splats of raindrops as we flew toward home.
And when we rode up over the last hill, I could see the light of the barnyard, and the kitchen of the old ranch house lit up. And even though my grandma had passed a year or so before, leaving that farmhouse empty, I swear I could smell her roast cooking in the oven. Up to that point in my short life, I had never felt as relieved, as safe and sound, as we unsaddled the horses as the rain turned from big splats to downpour.
When we got inside the house, we stripped off our wet clothes and told the story to our mom, laughing and exaggerating the drama of it all. And then we opened the door and pressed our noses against the screen to watch it pour and feel the cool mist on our faces because, oh my oh my oh my, it was raining…