A storm’s coming so I call the son, see if he wants to go down to the pier and watch it roll in. We have about twenty minutes before bands of rain arrive and the wind picks up. He says he’s in and off we go.
Heading to see disasters unfolding is a Willard thing to do. Dad believed it was important to bear witness, a way to understand how suddenly the world ignores our sense of assured control.
The last one I remember was a hurricane that hit Philadelphia soon after I graduated from high school. We stood in the middle of Green Lane Bridge, our bodies having no business hanging over the crumbling cement railings to watch the Schuylkill River ram toward us. Thick muddy water gripped around splinters of unrecognizable objects smacked through the bridge’s arches below. The frilled edges of waves seeped around our sneakers. We’d heard reports about the possibility of caskets clawed out of a churchyard in a town a hundred miles away but, to our great dismay, we didn’t see any.
The waters swallowed the lower third of our neighborhood. It consumed the canal then smashed over its retaining walls and through the abandoned 19th century mills to permanently etch a brown water line a good seven feet above the floor. A stream unfurled over Main Street.
Families would need to find new homes while theirs dried out and food when delivery trucks couldn’t forge the streets. The mineral-heavy sludge from a century and half of manufacturing packed the ruts between the cobblestone streets. Dad was going to have to help fix all that but right then on the bridge he stood with his hands pressed into his bony hips and, in a tone full of delighted wonder, asked his kids, “isn’t this something?”
The son and I arrive at the pier and park under a bridge. The rain starts to fall sideways. Cameras click on, lens adjusted, then we open the doors and run straight into the wind.
We stay enmeshed in the storm a good long while. Behind us, trees splice open and shoot out javelin-like branches. Blades of leaves whirl through the air. We hang over the railing more than we should.
“Got it?” I ask as we run back to the car.
“Crazy, ” he says.
Mom and son laugh at how the fury outside has inexplicably paused life’s daily mayhem.
Photo credit: Alex Finan