Vintage voice brings storm to life

Anyone who fancies himself a writer always reads and critiques other writers’ efforts, sometimes with disdain and sometimes with admiration while saying to himself, “I wish I’d written that.”
So it was with a little essay I found in a small booklet, A Souvenir of Lisbon – 1803-1913.
Knowing what my nephew and his wife have been going through to empty my sister’s house – she was literally an addicted “saver” – I have determined to rid my house of unnecessary “stuff” so no one else will suffer emptying my house as they have hers.
Consequently, I have been distributing books and papers and photographs and other material of historical interest to the proper centers. Much of it, I’ve had for a long time, intending to “do” something with it, but time has such a way of getting away from one that I thought it best to act now.
The little booklet was tucked in among other historical publishings and I almost missed it. It was apparently published for Lisbon’s Old Home Week on Sept. 11, 12 and 13 in 1913, and I had put it in a pile for the Lisbon Historical Society. But leafing through it, I came to the following gem and said, “I wish I had written that.” The society will eventually get it, but the essay should be savored by more folks than just me.
No author is listed, but a portrait of John H. Clarke, an early Lisbon notable, on the facing page makes me think it was his work. A note at the end reads, “The above was printed elsewhere several yars (sic) since and is here reprinted with the author’s admission that the town is Lisbon.”
The essay is titled A Storm Picture of Lisbon. As you read, you will be transported to another time, a time when time did indeed seem to almost stand still.
* * *
“It was afternoon in the village and valley of which I write, in the hill country not very far from the Ohio River. You would not say this was one of those places where it is always afternoon, and yet you would agree with me that the valley seemed fairest and most itself in the golden and dreamy light of a summer afternoon. It was then that the while cloud masses piled in the west and moved across the sky and, disappearing, left its blue more wistful. These clouds gave the scene almost its only sense of motion.
“The creek whose course was along the base of the hills that hold the village in their sweep, was asleep in its sedges; asleep were the cows that stood belly deep in its pools. The very hands on the village clock seemed to lag in the treadmill of the slow-footed hours.
“You looked over the village from the place of which I am to speak. It was an old house for the middle West, gray and with many chimneys. One of these was the mother chimney, and at evening a myriad of swallows circled about it in a narrowing vortex, finally tumbling in as thick and as fast as if the sky were shaking its winged inhabitants down a funnel. The Virginia creeper had it all its own way on the front porch where its screen was welcome against the warmth of the sun in the south. I was cooler on the back porch, which was latticed, brick-paved and honeysuckle-mantled, and which benefited from the perpetual perspiration of the well pump.
“There were mulberry trees on the long lawn in front, their fruit purple or waxen in the maturity of mid-summer. By the bedroom window there was a snowball bush with a chipping sparrow’s nest where a cowbird dropped a surreptitious egg every year.
“Gooseberries and currants were ripening in the garden in the rear and a grape arbor divided the garden from the lawns. Along the edge of the side road with its fringe of cherry trees, you would find such dubious growths as catnip, snapdragons and four-o’clocks weeds if you chose to call them. Near the kitchen stood a pear tree, old but prolific, and just now weighted down with fruit.
“Along the road on the afternoon of which I write, the wheat was standing in shocks and the soil showed yellow through the stubble. A light mask of dust stood over the highway. It was dry in the country – it had not rained for weeks – and the robins prospecting for worms on the front lawn had to brace themselves and pull and haul to drag forth their victims from the grass roots about which they had twisted themselves. The situation called for a good soaking rain. What I set out to record is that the rain came.
“It came as the beneficent curse of toil to a land where it is always afternoon. The spirit of action entered that sleeping scene, albeit it swept across it like a raiding host. Suddenly the westering sun was wading and a wind came down the valley, riding low as Tartars ride, and bending the grass before it.
“The white cloud masses that had been forming and dissolving on the horizon darkened ominously and stood up toward the zenith and there were muttering noises behind them. After that a hush came while slow drops fell, and then the lightning blazed and the sky opened and everything that was abroad ran for cover.
“From the shelter of the back porch you could note the tumult with which the elements filled that quiet valley. The rain was a steady roar on the lawns, a loud clangor on the tin roofs, an effusive lamentation in the overflowing water spouts, a splattering music upon the road.
“The hills lost their outline and retired behind the curtain of the storm. The gutters ran full with a muddy torrent; a cool mist of thin-beaten raindrops blew in on the porch and in the arbor the grape leaves showed the white of their undersides; you could hear the pears plunging down through the agitation of their branches to the pelted lawn.
“After a while a new voice entered the orchestra of tumultuous sound. The creek had shaken itself free from its slumber among the sedges and was sending its waters over the dam’s breast. As its voice waxed, the voice of the tempest waned. The rain slackened and drew off.
“The dim day struggled feebly and died rather quickly in the valley when the storm had withdrawn itself. There were disconsolate chirps in the mulberry branches. A robin sallied forth from under the gloom of the crabapple trees and renewed his sapping and mining tasks upon the lawn.
“A few minutes later a mellow contented note floated over the housetop form the pear tree’s topmost spike. Evidently the aftermath had been to one bird’s liking; he looked back upon the storm and saw that it was good. But the bedraggled fowls that had huddled under the asparagus (sic) thicket solemnly followed their lord across the dripping grass to their roost without comment.
“From somewhere a thin column of chimney swallows came into view, and after wheeling in twittering flight, dropped to their sooty bedchamber.
“The clock on the county courthouse minded itself of its neglected duties and sounded the hour with a meditative but monitory voice. It was time for supper.”
* * *
Truly a prose poem, don’t you think?

About the Author

A lifelong resident of the Mahoning Valley, Janie Jenkins retired in 1987 as a feature writer and columnist at the Youngstown Vindicator. In June of that same year, she started writing her column, "On My Mind" for Farm and Dairy. She loves all animals and is an accomplished equestrienne. Local history is also one of her loves, and her home, the former Southern Park Stables, is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. More Stories by Janie Jenkins

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