Rain, or the Slightly Scary Inner Workings of My Mind

It’s a cold and rainy day in southern New Jersey. One of the spin instructors at my gym always says, “It’s a beautiful day. You woke up. It’s a beautiful day.” So there is that. The sky is the light, slightly pearlescent gray that would be attractive in a sweater or scarf, but not so much in the winter sky where it blends into the darker gray of the wet street. I started thinking about weather and wondered how often it figured in literary plots. I thought of reading Wuthering Heights when I was in sixth grade–it was one of my prized Scholastic Books purchases—and remembered the scene in which Lockwood, the narrator, is caught in a storm and forced to seek shelter for the night at Wuthering Heights. After dozing off, he is awakened by the tapping of a branch on the windowpane. When he opens the window he sees a ghostly figure, and then when he reaches out, his hand is clasped by an ice-cold hand and voice asking to be let in. Ohhhhh. . .those delicious chills you get from reading about ghosts while wrapped snugly in a warm and cozy place.

This memory of my long ago young self sparked yet another memory of coming home from the movies with my mom and older sister in a storm in Dallas, where we lived at the time. There was hail, which was scary—at some point, then or another time, we had hail that actually broke a window in our house. My mom made us hot dogs and hot cocoa, which at the time seemed very comforting.

(I think hot dogs are repulsive, and I’ve never really liked them, so I think what I actually found comforting were the toasted rolls. Toast is always comforting, especially when it is eaten with cocoa. When my daughters were little, I always made them cinnamon toast and cocoa when they came in from playing in the snow. My husband was the designated snow player, and I was the designated toast and cocoa maker. Cinnamon toast and cocoa would probably be my top comfort food, although I can’t remember when I last had it. Now I’m craving cinnamon toast, aren’t you? My husband will say it always comes back to food with me, and I will say, yes, and what’s the problem? And now I feel the need to make a sour cream coffee cake with cinnamon streusel with perhaps a touch of cocoa this afternoon. You want some, too, don’t you? This is why I go to the gym even on a miserable rainy day.)

(Second digression—my husband said to me the other day in the car, how do you come up with these things? I tend to suddenly ask him weird things or make comments that seem totally random. We were on our way to see a play, The Body of an American, which deals with journalism, writing, war photography, unlikely friendships, ghosts, dysfunctional families, and unlikely friendships—among other things. I said, “We should buy a cheap tray table that we can keep in the car for when we go to wineries and things.” He thought this comment was totally out of the blue. I explained: we had been discussing rehearsal dinners, and I thought of when our older daughter got married last summer. The night before the rehearsal dinner, we went to a local winery and sat outside with my homemade challah and some cheese and drank some wine, but didn’t have a table to put the food on. My husband agreed it was a brilliant idea. And yes, it does always come back to food.)

So back to weather and literature. I think it would be difficult to write a book and never mention the weather. Sometimes it creates a necessary plot device—for example, the blizzard in Stephen King’s The Shining. I recently read Jane Smiley’s Some Luck. Focusing on the everyday life of one family, there are scenes in which it seems like nothing much happens, and yet it is so elegant in its simplicity. That is what life is like for most people. It is made up of the chores we do at home, the conversations we have with our family members and friends, our work, and yes, the weather.

“It was a dark and stormy night. . .” is the opening of the much-parodied sentence by Edward George Bulwer-Lytton. (See information on the Bulwer-Lytton Fiction Contest here.)

But sometimes it actually is a dark and stormy night. Or a gray and rainy day. And sometimes the weather sparks memories, and sometimes memories spark baking. And these things may or may not lead to good writing. They may lead simply to some great food—and more memories.

And now it’s time for lunch.

Let the rain kiss you. Let the rain beat upon your head with silver liquid drops. Let the rain sing you a lullaby.
–Langston Hughes, “April Rain Song”

“Rainy days should be spent at home with a cup of tea and a good book.”

–Bill Watterson, The Calvin and Hobbes Tenth Anniversary Book

“Well, what tongue does the wind talk? What nationality is a storm? What country do rains come from? What color is lightning? Where does thunder go when it dies?”

–Ray Bradbury, Something Wicked This Way Comes

12 thoughts on “Rain, or the Slightly Scary Inner Workings of My Mind

  1. Your mind musings hit me just right. My husband too is astonished by my gigantic mental leaps at times though I remember having no such reaction from my colleagues at the College when I uttered seemingly random thoughts.

    This year I have been reading memoir writers’ advice. One memoirist mentioned that if you can write about weather effectively you are an accomplished writer. (I’m thinking it was Beth Gephart or Patricia Hampl.) The sky outside my window now is not quite “light, slightly pearlescent gray” but something more steely, but should I complain when the thermometer stands at degrees?

    I too remember the weather descriptions in the gothic novel Wuthering Heights, which was a staple on my Brit Lit syllabus for a while. Wuthering, after all, refers to rushing, whistling, blustering wind – atmospheric tumult for sure.

    Christina Rossetti comments about bleak weather at Christmas-time here:
    In the bleak mid-winter
    Frosty wind made moan,
    Earth stood hard as iron,
    Water like a stone;
    Snow had fallen, snow on snow,
    Snow on snow,
    In the bleak mid-winter,
    Long ago.

    Thank you, Merril, for this lovely post, matching my mood today.

    • Thanks, Luanne! The old movie with Merle Oberon and Laurence Olivier? That’s a classic, although not as good as good as the book. Then there’s also Monty Python’s semaphore version of Wuthering Heights. 🙂

  2. We’re having one of those rainy days now…always makes me melancholy to have rain in winter. But I do love the sounds of the rain. Cinnamon toast and tea…yes, that would be nice.

  3. A few things… Yes, indeed, now you definitely have me craving cinnamon toast and hot cocoa, thank you very much! 😉 I THOUGHT you were heading in the direction of taking this post to talk about how food also ends up in fiction as well as the weather. But the weather is a very good detail to include as well. One of my novels is set in Florida, so of course, it starts off with a hurricane on the way. Otherwise, I fear I don’t really mention the weather enough. On a final note, I never read Wuthering Heights… But had I known a ghost was involved, I would have made it a point to read a long time ago! 🙂 Thanks for educating me and making me hungry today. 😀 ❤

  4. Your comment made me laugh, Rachel. But how have you gone through life without reading Wuthering Heights? 🙂 It’s not really ghost story though–more of a Gothic novel. Seriously, make yourself some cinnamon toast and settle down for long reading session. Haha.

  5. I’ve read that writers are discouraged from using weather as a plot device because of Edward George Bulwer-Lytton’s much parodied quote: “It was a dark and stormy night. . .” Like you, I disagree. Among my favorite books on our bookshelves: “Snow Falling on Cedars” by David Guterson, “Smilla’s Sense of Snow,” by Peter Hoeg, and “The Perfect Storm,” by Sebastian Junger.

    I love your quotes. They are my favorite poet, cartoonist, and author quotes.

    Your post also brought back pleasant memories from my childhood. Cinnamon and sugar on toast. When I wasn’t feeling well, my Mom would make toast and milk (forget what it’s called). Very comforting. Cocoa. Ah, yes! Perfect on a cold night or in a streusel or coffee cake. Yes, it does all come back to food. 😉

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