In 1963 my parents decided that instead of flying out to California from our home in New York to visit my mother's two sisters and their families we were going to see America and drive. My two aunts had moved to LA during the war to get jobs in defense plants and a couple of years later my grandparents followed. My mom was the only one left on the east coast so every couple of years we would fly out west. I don't know what possessed them to make the three thousand mile drive in the days before the eight lane interstates aside form our newish 1961 Buick but in late June off we went for a four week trip. My father had the car worked over from top to bottom and wonder of wonders he had a futuristic device called an air conditioner installed underneath the front dash. It didn't do a whole lot of good for my big brother and I in the back seat but mom and dad were in the lap of comfort up front.
We stopped the first night in Ohio and I was thrilled to find an exotic place called Stuckies next to our motel that not only sold gooey pecan logs but also firecrackers. As a New Yorker any kind of fireworks were illegal, even sparklers so to be able to buy a pack of Black Cats right along with my candy bar made me feel like I'd died and gone to heaven . I couldn't wait to get to California to show them off to my cousins. I was also thrilled to be able to swim in the motel pool after dinner. I was out on the road, eating junky food, swimming in a nearly deserted pool and had a suitcase pocket full of firecrackers. It didn't get any better for a nine year old kid.
A couple of days later as we headed west into Tulsa, Oklahoma I remember my parents remarking at the odd color of the sky. The cars passing us heading east had their headlights on. Traffic slowed to a crawl as we approached the outskirts of the city and we soon found out that a tractor trailer in the east bound lanes had jack-knifed and spilled it's full load of pig carcasses all over the highway. It was an eerie sight to see the scores of pink, dead porkers strewn all over the highway and median while a state trooper in his Smokey the Bear hat calmly waved traffic on. We continued on into the progressively weird looking horizon.
About eleven o'clock in the morning the daylight began to disappear altogether and fat raindrops began to hit our windshield. My old man spun the dial on the a.m. radio but was only getting static. My mom told him to turn the headlights on. She needn't have told him, it was as dark as night now and the rain was falling harder and harder. Our car was now crawling along with the wipers on high because my old man couldn't see past the end of the car's hood. Lightning was cracking above us in strange greenish colors I had never seen before. The thunder claps were terrifying and our car was shaking from the reports. I was kneeling up on the back bench seat, no seat belts back in those days, and watching the whole thing both fascinated and terrified. Suddenly a huge bolt of lightning hit the road off to the side of our car about twenty feet away. It was purple, green, brilliant white, orange and made the loudest bang I have ever heard.
I fell back against my brother and started to whimper. He being much older pushed me off and told me not to be such a baby but he said it without a whole lot of oomph. My mother was telling me that everything was going to be alright but she didn't sound terribly convincing either. My old man was gripping the wheel with white knuckles and told everyone to just shut the hell up so he could concentrate but after a few more minutes he pulled off onto the shoulder because he just could not see well enough to drive.
We sat there and listened to the rain pour down on top of the car. It sounded more like someone was dumping giant bucket of water on us rather than rain. The thunder and lightning continued to crash although no more near misses.. Finally my father pulled back onto the road and slowly started heading west. As we at last left the storm behind us we watched cars heading in the other direction going into the storm and my mother said, "Poor souls don't know what they're in for." We got to our motel that night and we all just fell into bed. I don't remember if they sold fireworks or not but I was not interested. I had seen enough to last me good long time.
A few years ago I was watching TV with one of my kids and some special was on about severe weather. My child thought it was a hoot that in places like Kansas and Oklahoma they have warning sirens before thunder storms. "You have no idea..." I said.