The hot days of summer stacked themselves upon my sweaty back like flapjacks straight off the griddle. August was often the worst of the summer months, not only because of the heat but because of the impending school year. This is well-worn territory. The push and pull of returning to school while still looking forward to autumn and Halloween. Looking for relief from the unbearably hot days of summer.
In the past, I’ve written about the many things we would do to beat the heat: ice cream, arcade runs, and going to the movie theater among them. But sometimes, when the gods of childhood were feeling merciful, the sky itself would open and send forth a cooling torrent of freezing rain to wash the sweat from our faces.
There was nothing like a summer storm, somehow both foreboding and welcoming. The adults around me always seemed to lament rain. They ran from it, shielded themselves with umbrellas, and gazed out windows morosely. I, on the other hand, always looked forward to storms.
I still remember sitting on the stoop of my Brooklyn apartment building as the sky darkened and a chill breeze blew scraps of paper across the sidewalk. The ambient temperature dropped a few degrees. In the distance lightning flashed and thunder grumbled angrily.
My brother Mike and I would sit there and wait until an earsplitting crack of thunder tore the sky open. There’d be a moment of complete silence, as if some stern librarian in the sky had shushed the world.
A moment later the rain fell, only a few drops at first, then a downpour. Lightning raced across the sky, tracing crooked lines through cloud cover. Thunder growled and cracked and rumbled. The temperature dropped another few degrees and we couldn’t stand it anymore, so Mike and I ran down the stairs and into rain so cold we shivered.
Mike nodded. “One, two, three, go!”
We ran down the street, feet splashing in puddles while our clothes became soaked. Steam rose from the pavement—a reaction of icy water hitting hot blacktop—and coated the world with horror movie mist. We kept on running through the rain, through the mist, through the summer night. We were deaf to the coming school year, blind to the ending of summer. We just ran and let that wonderful summer rain wash over us as the pyrotechnics in the sky lit our way.
Although that might feel like the end, our rainy night fun doesn’t stop there, because those riotous summer storms were the closest I would get to Halloween vibes for at least another month or two. There was always something about a good thunderstorm that elicited the same kinds of feelings I’d get around Halloween. I was loathe to forgo indulging in the experience.
Still soaking wet, Mike and I would continue our run straight into the video store, and after some time shivering in the air-conditioned room, we'd choose a spooky movie. Fright Night, Critters, Child’s Play, and The Blob were all thunderstorm watches. Before heading home we’d hit the corner store and grab a box of Goobers.
Shielding our prized possessions, we ran back to the apartment where Mom and Dad tutted and shook their heads as we dripped all over the floor. No matter, we had a movie night to set up.
After getting into dry clothes, we’d grab the air popper and make a fresh bowl of popcorn. And then, you guessed it, we dumped the box of Goobers right in where the chocolate would melt a little and offer sweet surprises with every handful of buttery popcorn.
I pushed the movie into the VCR and listened for the satisfying whir before the previews started. Although the summer heat was still lurking on the other side of the storm, we didn’t think about that. We enjoyed the crackling rage of thunder and lightning outside while something scary tore its way across the television screen. And we were happy. This was summer Halloween.
Now, whenever the sky darkens outside my window during these hot months, I always remember how young me reacted, and I do my level best to make him proud.
I run in the rain. I make popcorn. And I watch horror movies.