Jeff Smith 12:15 p.m., April 24
- Community Blog
The Rain Dance
It was called Easter Vacation in those days. Though I can't recall the year, I know it was one of those early sixties Easter Weeks when JFK was in the White House. I was just a bit of a kid in elementary school. My brother was even smaller. My sister was barely a toddler.
Everybody was talking about the need for rain. We were going through one of Southern California's periodic droughts, and you'd hear about it on the news. Some woman even offered up a prayer for rain one Sunday at church. To a little kid like me, it was somewhat scary, though my brother and sister then weren't even old enough to worry about such things. Growing up in San Diego, you'd hear about the scarcity of water from time to time, and to this day a recurring nightmare for me is the thought of turning on a faucet sometime and finding nothing there. It's a legacy of my youth.
One weekday morning during that Easter Vacation, I got an idea. My brother and I had some nylon feathers from a contraption dad had gotten us at Disneyland, I think. We took a couple of elastic bands and used them to hold the feathers in place on our heads. We got the set of bongo drums my dad had bought in Tijuana during one of our occasional trips there while entertaining out of town guests. We showed my baby sister how to beat on them. Then we stripped down to our underpants and went outside.
Mom immediately wondered what was up and told us we couldn't play outside in our underwear, even though it was a warm, sunny day. We lived on College Avenue at the time, and it was a heavily traveled street. Although we were headed for the backyard and out of sight, such things just weren't done. Once she figured out what we had in mind, though, she played along and had us change into swimming trunks instead.
What we had in mind was a rain dance, Indian style. There was a big ash tree in the backyard, and we sat my sister down in the shade of it and had her beat the drum steadily. Once in awhile she'd lose interest, so we'd have to stop and get her going again. Meanwhile, we danced around the ash tree, singing and chanting. Occasionally we'd stop and lift up my dog's water dish, imploring the heavens to bring us rain.
It seemed like we were at it for a long time, because that's the way time passes when you're a kid. In actuality, we probably didn't spend more than fifteen or twenty minutes on our rain dance. Yet my brother and I always remember it.
There hadn't been a cloud in the sky for as long as we could remember, but the very next day it started to rain. We were convinced that we'd done it all by ourselves. My mom was amused, but told us it was only a "coincidence," a word I'd never heard before.
It couldn't have been more than a year or so later that I learned another new word, "assassination." Then years went by, and I and everything else became less believing and innocent.
We laugh a lot about those days, the crazy things my little brother and I thought and did, imitating the sculpture of "The Discus Thrower" with a frisbee, wrapping a garden hose around our necks and pretending we were Lloyd Bridges in Sea Hunt, thinking the water tank above University Avenue was an enormous bomb, and other real down-home stuff. College Avenue is still a busy thoroughfare, and I drive by it pretty often. Even now though, unless I'm really preoccupied with something, I can't pass by that house without noticing the ash tree that still dominates the backyard. Then I remember the Rain Dance, and it makes me smile.