Thunder in January

Saturday, January 12, 2013

Thunder in January… is an unusual occurrence.  I was awakened at 3 am yesterday by the booming echoes of thunder, and I could hear the pounding rain on the roof.  It is rare to hear the sound of rain inside my house, but that happened in the wee hours of yesterday, and it is happening again this evening as I write.

When I hear the words January thunder it triggers some old family lore in my mind.  There are two sayings associated with this topic, one each from mom’s and dad’s side of the family.  For the Carnahan side, “If there’s thunder in January, the goose eggs won’t hatch.”  And from the Byrd side, “Thunder in January…means a flood in June.”

I don’t know the background of the sayings, or why the concepts developed as they did.  But for mom’s family, they certainly had experience with the White River.  My mom’s older sister Nellie lived in a house near White River when she was newly-married to Uncle Wib (Wilbert) Armes in the 1920s.  Now you must imagine their simple wood-frame home, uninsulated, more than a mile from the nearest neighbor, and situated on a little knoll, with woods nearby in the bayous between the house and river.  Perhaps that knoll was an old Indian mound, for it was certainly like a bump on the flat soils of the White River bottomland.  I recall their story of a winter morning when they swung their feet out of bed, and as their feet touched the floor, they stepped into icy water.  The river had raised through that particular night and had reached high enough to enter their house an inch-or-so deep.  Their first concern was to move the farm animals from the lot into a loft area of the nearby barn.  They took their little boat out of there to the railroad and then walked the railroad tracks the 2+miles into Wheatland, where my grandparents lived.  They went back and forth from Grandpa Byrd’s house in town to the farm each day to care for the livestock.  It was about a week until the water receded.

Uncle Wib and Aunt Nellie bought a farm at Glendale, Indiana, not too long after this flood event, and never again experienced river water in their home.  But, interestingly enough, dad bought that same river-bottom farm from a widow in the mid 1960s.   The place is known by us as the “Nellie farm”.  The house and barn that served my aunt and uncle were still there when dad bought that farm, but were quite dilapidated and had no utility–having been unoccupied for decades.  We removed those structures, and now crops grow on that spot.  And the farm is now levee-protected from all but the most extreme 100-year floods.

As a guy of the ‘baby boomer’ generation, I really cannot imagine the ways of life for those farmers of the 20s and 30s.  But I admire their grit and determination.  My Uncle Wib and Aunt Nellie will always remain on my “most admired” list for their example of unfailing love and devotion to God, to each other, to their family, and to their farm.  The Armes family grain and livestock farm is still thriving at Glendale, now run mostly by Aunt Nellie’s grandkids and great grandkids.  And there is a little great- great- granddaughter named Nellie Pearl Armes.  What a beautiful legacy she represents!

And the old saying about January thunder and goose eggs?  Beats me.

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