It's been sixty years and I am still unable to forget the storm. I continue to be haunted by a moment in my life which still causes me to sometimes bolt upright in bed, and hide under the covers until morning.
I used to remind my dad about the moment, and how I remembered riding in the car with him when it happened...
He'd always place a finger to his lips, "If you utter a word, people will think you're crazy."
Summer 1949: I was ten, school was out for the summer, and on a hot and humid July afternoon I tagged along with Dad to a farm auction. He purchased a wagonload of baled hay, and bought me a worn copy of, A Child’s Garden of Verses I'd found buried beneath a stack of old National Geographic magazines.
Afterwards, we walked quickly to the food tent, the sky was dark and it looked like it'd pour any second. As we shared a ham sandwich and drank bottles of Orange Crush, we listened to raindrops fall gently on the tent, and watched lightning zigzag across the sky. I flinched when thunder rumbled in the distance. "Looks like a bad storm's brewing," Dad said. "Give me your hand, and let's run to the car."
The ride home was a dicey five miles on a narrow two-lane winding gravel road, as wind hurled rain against the windshield. The windshield wipers were no match for the downpour, and Dad had to pull over to the shoulder of the road. I shuddered, as the wind driven rain hammered the roof of the car and loud thunder clamored overhead. Suddenly, a tall, dark figure wearing a black hat and a black raincoat appeared beside Dad’s side of the car, banged a flashlight on the car window and shouted, "You need some help?"
Lightning flashed and he recognized the man’s craggy, lined face. "It's Jack!" Dad exclaimed. "My God, he disappeared ten years ago."
Quickly, he rolled down the window, ignoring the rain that pelted the inside of the car, "Jack, where the hell have you been?"
"Searching for my dog, Duke," Jack said. "He's scared of thunderstorms."
"Jack, you're soaked," Dad said, "get in the car and wait out the storm with us."
"Much obliged," Jack said as he flung himself into the back seat, and tossed his big black hat into the back window. Water rolled off his soggy rain gear and drenched the floor and back seat.
While the storm raged on, Dad and Jack conversed - I grew weary and dozed off. I was startled awake, when Jack slammed the car door. Gently, Dad nudged me, "Hey sleepyhead, the storm's over. Time to head home. Mom's probably plenty worried about us."
I noticed Jack forgot his hat, but strangely enough, as Dad drove the treacherous road home, we never spotted Jack walking along the side of the road.
We sat down to dinner as soon as we got home, and Dad talked about the auction and the storm, but didn't mention Jack and his dog.
I remembered Jack's hat in the back window. "May I be excused?" I asked. "I left my book in the car."
An eerie feeling washed over me as I opened the car door, I spotted my book on the front seat, but the black hat was gone, and the back seat was dry as a bone...
Summer 2010: Dad’s gone now, but memories of the moment in the storm continues.