Just the Other Day: Kentucky Rain

Just before leaving Florida, my friend asked if I had checked the weather. I told him I had not. “There’s a lot of heavy weather coming in tomorrow from the gulf.” He warned. I assured him I would be long gone by then. He added, “This weather will reach well into the Midwest. You should try to keep your route as easterly as possible.” I thanked him for the heads-up, and started north.


The overcast sky followed my whole drive north on I-75 through Florida and into Georgia. I was hoping it would clear, as the night would bring the first full moon of the year – the Wolf Moon.  In Chattanooga, Tennessee, I turned west on I-24 and so did the overcast. It followed me all the way into Kentucky.


I brought a can of beer with me from the refrigerator and kept it in the cooler. I thought, after dark, I would find a cool place to stop for the night and call my wife. Even though we were a thousand miles apart, we could watch the full moon together, while enjoying a New Glarus Moon Man. The overcast scrubbed my plan and I kept driving.


Melissa called around 11:00 to tell me how pretty the moon was. “I’m standing outside on the deck.” She told me, “The moon is so bright on the snow, it looks like daylight.” I was jealous; wanting to be there with her.


I wasn’t going to drive much farther before calling it a night. The rain was starting to fall lightly and I was getting tired, so I pulled into a parking lot in Princeton, Kentucky.


“We’re going to crash here for the night.” I told my dog, as I let her out in a small grassy area before bed.  June wanted to run across the road to a wooded area. “You can’t go over there alone after dark. This is Kentucky and they have wildcats.” I don’t know if they really do or not, but it is the mascot of their university sports teams, so I suppose they do. Either way, I wasn’t taking any chances.


“I’m not afraid of cats.” June assured me.


“Yes, you are. You’re afraid of Edgar (our cat at home) and he’s not nearly as big as the wildcats around here. And besides that, we already had an alligator scare today and I don’t need any more excitement.” Earlier in the day, June had jumped into a moss-covered swampy area in Florida, while fetching a stick. It scared the daylights out of me.


“There weren’t any alligators in the water.” She defended.


“You didn’t know that and you’re still not going over to the woods, so do your business and get back in here.” June gave me a look of disapproval. Regardless what was or wasn’t in the woods, I didn’t want her to get all muddy.


The outside temperature was 50 degrees – perfect. I climbed under the covers in my bed and June curled up on her bed on the floor. It was starting to rain a little harder. I shivered between the cold sheets, then lifted the covers back a bit, “June Bug, do you want to get in with me?” She gladly accepted my offer and snuggled in. The sound of the rain tapping on the metal roof was soothing and we were both soon fast asleep.


I was in a state where I was pretty sure I was asleep, but not positive. I was definitely aware when the rain increased in intensity. It began falling harder. Then the wind picked up, rocking the van. I looked out the window; the rain was coming horizontal, hitting the glass and making everything look a greyish color. I felt like I was looking at waves from under the water. Soon the wind became stronger. So much so that each gust created a sheet of rain, thrown against the side of the van. It was like gale force waves crashing into the rocks and cliffs on Lake Superior.


In the midst of the torrential rain, an alarm went off on my cellphone. I picked it up to read a message from the National Weather Service. Flash flood warnings were in effect for the area. I didn’t doubt it, with so much rain.  The winds tapered off, but the rain continued to fall. I remember thinking about how much I miss the storms in Iowa and the Midwest, with their impressive thunder and lightning. This storm lacked both.


I dozed off again, but it wasn’t long before I awoke to a boom, then another and another. Soon there was a loud crash of thunder that echoed into the distance. The sound reminded me of a train connecting empty coal cars. There’s an initial boom when the coupler on the locomotive engine hits the coupler on the first empty car – the crash then continues, echoing from one car to the next until it reaches the far end of the train. I love that sound and this thunder was sweet.


With the thunder came lightning. Each flash from every bolt reflected off the white ceiling in the van, lighting it up as bright as daylight. I wondered if this was as bright as the wolf moon lighting our snow-covered yard back home. I drifted off again listening to the storm. Even though it was very loud, the rain pounding on the roof eased me deeper into sleep. I began to dream.


I dreamed of a day long ago, when I was about 14-years-old. Dad told me to go outside and feed the horses. The horses were in a building we always called the manger, which was out in the barnyard. It wasn’t a manger; a manger is a wooden box for animal feed. It was more like a stable.


There were walls on three sides with an old rusty tin roof. The building was open across the front with the exception of an enclosed stall on the east end. The antique red and grey Ford 8-N tractor was always parked in there, usually with an old two-bottom plow attached behind. Of course, there was plenty of room for the horses, too.


The horses would take shelter in the manger to get out of the hot sun or when it was raining or snowing. That particular night, it was raining.


I went to the barn first and filled a pail with a mixture of corn and oats. Our cows were in stalls inside the barn and I was glad. The cows all had horns and I didn’t like being around them in the dark; I was afraid they would gore me. I set the full pail by the door and picked up a square bail of hay. I slipped my hands under the two strands of bailing twine and began waddling to the manger with the heavy bail.


The barnyard was muddy and my green rubber boots sank slightly into the mud with each step. The hay was heavy and the twine felt like it was cutting into my fingers. The smell of road apples and cow patties made me appreciate having a good pair of boots. I walked more quickly as I didn’t want to slip and fall in the muck.


As I walked into the dark manger, our two horses each made that funny noise that sounds like they’re blowing their noses – I suppose to let me know they were there.  I broke the bail open and dropped the hay into the bin.


Both horses came to eat. Pony, was a small horse or a big pony. He was an Appaloosa with a brown coat and spots on his rump. He sure was handsome and could be plenty feisty. His real name was Trigger, but we always called him Pony. I rubbed him on the head between his ears, “Hi, Pony, would you like some hay?” He wasted no time getting right to it.


Our other horse, a full-size quarter-horse, came to join him. She was much taller and had a beautiful reddish-brown coat. Her name was Pretty, and the name said it all. She, too, was spirited and took her place next to Pony to have some hay. I shuddered with a chill as I trudged through the mud and rain going back to the barn.


With the pail of grain in my hand, I made my way back to the manger, again. Both horses abandoned the hay and walked to the opening, poking their heads out into the rain to meet me. They knew what I had. “Get back in there and stay out of the rain.” I told them. The rain really started to come down hard. It was loud on the metal roof. The wind was getting stronger, lifting the loose edges of old tin roofing and slapping them back down. “I suppose Dad is going to tell me to come nail the roof down, tomorrow.” I was wet and the wind made me feel even colder.


I poured a little over half of the grain into a feed box that was mounted next to the hay bin about three feet above the ground, for Pretty. She started munching on the grain right away. I hung the pail on a nail in a vertical post closer to the ground for Pony. He started eating. I love the sound of horses crunching grain as they eat. With a horse on either side of me, it was like hearing it in stereo. “I brought you guys a little extra grain tonight because it’s raining. There’s no need to tell Dad about this, okay?” Both horses were okay with that.


Pretty finished her corn and oats first and had ideas about sharing Pony’s grain, too. She nudged his way, but he pushed right back. She wanted that grain, but he was going to have nothing to do with sharing his portion. Although Pretty is twice his size, Pony holds his own when oats are at hand. I was trapped between these two animals as their shoving match ensued.


I took hold of Pretty’s halter and lifted her head. I stroked my hand across her big jaw and down the length of her neck. She liked that, but still tried to jerk her head away from me to get to that grain. “Come on Pretty, you had yours, let Pony finish eating.”


When Pony finished, he brought his head back up. The two beasts continued to press against one another. While I was squished between them, I found a great comfort. The two were keeping me warm and protecting me from the wind that blew in the open front of the shelter. I was very at ease and didn’t even try to get loose. The loudness of the rain on the roof made me feel warmer and safer.


The dream was so real, I couldn’t tell if I was really there in the manger, or just dreaming. I could literally feel the horses heat warming me. Either way, I was warm and dry and very much at peace.


There was another loud clap of thunder, lightning crashed and the van rocked with waves of rain pelting the side. I heard an animal mooing and instantly thought, “Oh my God, the cows got out.” Just then June shifted again, laying under the covers with me, she mooed again. (Yes, our border collie/blue heeler mix, moos like a cow when she is dreaming.)  I opened my eyes. I was in the van in a rainstorm in Princeton, Kentucky, but so badly wanted to go back to the manger in that rainstorm in Iowa, years ago.


As I slipped back into my slumber, the rain continued to fall and I started dreaming again. This time, Elvis was in the van with us and kept singing, “Kentucky rain keeps pouring down…”


I don’t even like that song. “Enough Elvis! Enough. Go to sleep.” I pleaded.


He trailed off “In the cold Kentucky rain. In the cold Kentucky rain…”


June’s feet twitched as she slept. I suppose she was dreaming, too, about chasing rabbits or squirrels. Or maybe she was chasing a ball, or, a stick that landed in an alligator infested swamp. I pulled her closer to me, “You sure keep me warm, June Bug.”