An Old Man who likes 4 Letter Words, Respects Okra, and can Smell Rain Coming

Yesterday i was looking at a storm system located over Bandera while standing in the yard. Today i am watching one in a different portion of the sky. From what i understand its somewhere between Mason and Fredericksburg, but i just know it to be the sky over the front right portion of the property. Most of the storm system appears to be dead north right now but the edge of it extends so far you could mistake the thing for being north west of us. The edge of it extends all the way to just above Johnson City. It blows my mind that we can see weather all the way up there from the yard. Part of it is that i live on a plateau at the top of a hill. Its a good view from up here. It leaves you vulnerable to lightening and wind but it makes for good weather watching. The system is not supposed to bother us until 4 pm so i have let the dogs out and am chilling doing school work until then. I am reminded of a former patient of mine that i used to see when i worked contract up in Fredericksburg. He was an old angry sheep farmer; hated everyone and everything. But he liked me. Nobody ever knew why i was the exception to his dementia prompted hatred of all life had to offer. The first time i met him he was sitting up at the front of the nursing home staring out the window at the fields across the street. I sat down next to him to ask him to do therapy but he seemed deep in the middle of something and far away. He wasnt looking at the fields. He was looking past them. In the corner sat a gentleman in a rocking chair who i would later realize chirped, “looks like rain’s a-comin” every ten minutes while gumming a toothpick in the side of his mouth. The patient i was supposed to see turned to the man in the overalls sitting in the rocking chair and barked, “Shut up Jim, you say that every ten minutes and you don’t know a God damn thing about weather! You wouldn’t know a rain drop if it was a rattle snake and it jumped up and bit ye in the face…pueh…what do you know about rain?” I had been told that his memory reset every fifteen minutes and so if i got on his bad side, which they all said was a sure thing i’d do because they hadn’t yet seen if he had a good side, i was to just wait fifteen minutes and then start again. I waited a while and then pretended that the rain thing was my idea. I said, “looks like it might rain later.” He raised an eyebrow, suddenly noticing me, and said, “what makes you think that?” I shrugged, “oh, i dunno, i was just looking at the clouds out there.” I was hoping maybe he had cataracts. He did not. The old sheep farmer then took my inventory and spent the next thirty minutes of our session screaming at me about different types of clouds and how i was full of shit trying to pull one over on him cuz i’m just like the damn nurses and the damn aids thinking he’s an old man who knows nothing when he’s still got his faculties completely about him and there aint no damn rain clouds to be seen on the horizon out there and whatever i want from him i can take the request and shove it up my ass because im full of shit and he doesnt talk to people who are full of shit and not worth his wasted breath in educating them. The only thing i could bill for was dynamic balance training when he was up on his feet trying to take a swing at me while the nurses attempted to guard him lest he fell. They said that was the most exercise he’d had in three weeks as he refused all his baths, wore the same clothes every day, and refused most any care the staff tried to offer him. He remained unmoving in that chair in the front room from sun up to sun down looking at the sky and he took what little he ate of each meal on a tv tray table placed next to the chair. He was their least favorite patient because he had a tendency to swing on people and he wouldnt let them do what they were paid to do. I decided i would figure out the old sheep farmer. His wife visited around lunch time and i interviewed her. The first thing she asked me, with a concerned grimace on her face was, “Did he punch you?” I answered, “No.” i had backed away in time. She told me he was always a no nonsense serious man, an introvert who never liked people. He simply would not suffer idiots, in any way for any reason. He ran his whole sheep farm by himself for many years with only a dog to help him. She said they had a few sons but none of them wanted to stay in town. They all went to the city and finished college and got good jobs there. She was proud of them but her husband couldn’t be bothered every time she had one on the phone. She said in his eyes their boys were dead to him the moment they left the farm. She said his father and grandfather were also sheep farmers and it was only his and his brothers sons that wanted nothing to do with the farming life. The legacy ended and the sheep were sold when the old men went to the nursing home due to dementia. He had never forgiven her for selling the sheep and frequently said he had no reason to live. The only thing that gave him pleasure was watching the weather from the front room. I asked, “Did he always keep track of the weather?” She said, “Oh sure, farmers have to keep track of the weather sweetheart. Both crops and livestock depend on the rain. That man could look at a cloud formation and tell you what you were getting with exact accuracy every time. He knew when there would be hail, tornados, when it was going to be a downpour and when it was going to miss us completely. He may be an old coot now but people used to call our house just to get his assessment of the weather.” She told me he used to be a school teacher but he quit when they took the paddle out of the classroom. He’d been a sheep farmer like his dad ever since. I thanked her for the background and promised to try again in two days. Two days later i was a completely new person to him. I sat in a chair next to him and asked him, “any chance of rain out there?” He furrowed his eyebrows and answered, “no, no rain for miles. Not a chance in hell. I’d say its gonna be another hot dry summer.” I asked him what kind of clouds we were looking at. He told me. He then asked me why i was so interested in the weather. He asked, “you a farmer?” I answered, “no, just a gardener.” He looked at me and shook his head, “nothing wrong with a gardener.” He said, “what do you grow, gardener?” I answered that i had tomatoes, squash, cucumbers, strawberries, and some beans but my all time favorite was okra. He smiled and chuckled to himself, “okra…what do you like about okra girlie?” I answered that my favorite flower wasnt a tulip or a rose but an okra flower because they bloomed nearly every morning and they were so stunning with the contrast of the deep maroon center and the buttery yellow. They were very graceful in their unfolding and okra was such a hardy plant that could survive wind, drought, heat, and constant harvesting. As soon as you cut an okra it was growing two more. I told him i really liked the taste of okra. He was smiling the whole time i spoke. He said, “most people dont like the slime.” I said, “oh i leave them whole and just pop them in the skillet with oil and spices and brown the outsides until they are caramelized. Then i eat them.” He nodded his head, “i like okra too. Its a good plant. Good producer. Makes little complaint.” From then on i’d give him the daily report on how my garden and dogs were doing and he’d give me the daily report on the weather. He would talk about the different types of clouds and what they meant and i would listen intently as if i was in the middle of a school course. Apparently he began to look forward to the days he knew i was coming and he’d allow one of the staff members to help him bathe on the days i was scheduled to see him. He began eating food again. He had a reason to live. I had to be told the weather report so i could know what to expect with the garden. He would tell me which days i didnt need to water…of course i didnt live in town so it didnt apply, but every day he said i wouldnt need to water, it rained in Fredericksburg. One day i arrived and he was standing. All the staff were trying to get him to sit down in his wheelchair before he fell. He was standing up, waving his cane about, “It’s a coming! It’s a coming now! Look at it! Look at it! Magnificent!” He was like a madman with crazy eyes. He was so happy. He was of course right. A storm system was upon us. I had just outrun it to get to work. It pelted the nursing home yard with golf ball sized hail as the staff moved all the patients away from the windows and handed out pudding cups to appease the anxious. The rain approached in a visible sheet extending down from the sky and my old angry friend was guiding it in like an air traffic controller landing a plane. He kept screaming, “here it comes! Here it comes!” Wind blew trees sideways outside and whistled through the drafty front door. Downpours flooded the streets which soon became streams and rivers. I had to move my car to higher ground. Then the tornado warning was announced. The staff left him with me to get all the patients in their rooms. Everyone had to get out of the dining area and sitting room, surrounded by glass windows. He turned to me, life in his eyes, and said, “it’s here!” I nodded, “you’re right.” He asked, “can you smell it?” I asked, “rain?” He answered, “that’s God’s gift. God’s beautiful and terrible gift.” He said, “that’s the real magic. None of this harry potter stuff or vampire shit the kids are into these days. This is the real magic.” He pointed forwards at the blackened sky outside. I said, “maybe we should go too…there sure are a lot of windows here in this room. They say there’s a tornado that’s touched down somewhere.” He said, “you go. I’ll stay here.” He stood with his cane and watched the lightening flash across the sky. He was grinning ear to ear the whole time. He loved it. The pressure, the violence, the release of massive amounts of rain, the beauty, the fear, the necessity… he said “now the earth will drink.” The one tornado warning expired but they announced a tornado watch on the radio about an hour later and all the patients were shuttled back into their rooms again. My patient stared out the window, “No, its done. Its worn itself out, it wont do anything else.” He was right. It was done.

The last day of my contract i said goodbye to him and he was very cross with me. He wanted me to stay but i explained my contract had ended and i had to go. He refused to see me for his last session. He changed his mind last minute and sent the staff to fetch me. He said he wasnt interested in the usual but he would do a few bicep curls if i would take him outside on the porch. I did so and he kept his end of the bargain. He said, “Don’t forget what i taught you. Learn to read the weather. Feel it in your bones. Cuz those boys on the tube don’t know a damn thing with their fancy gizmos and gadgets.” “Don’t know a damn thing about rain…” i promised him i’d always pay attention to the weather. The old sheep farmer is with the Lord now but every time a storm approaches i see him standing in the front room with wild crazy eyes waving his cane in the air and saying, “it’s coming! Its here!” I plan to follow in his footsteps one day and give the nurses hell when they try to bathe me. Its always the ornery ones you remember.

By the time i finished writing this the storm had arrived. I unplugged the internet, took the dogs in, and ripped the lids off the barrels i collected rain in. I watched the lightening split the sky and the black clouds approach. When it was here the wind picked up and the house fell into shadow. We got the very edge of it. It looked very impressive but we only got a few drops of rain. It went straight through the nearby town of Comfort and dumped all its buckets of rain there. The old sheep farmer would have laughed at me and said “you got hasty. Got ta read the signs. Read the signs.” If i was to be honest, the chickens did not seem bothered in the slightest, my dogs were not inconsolable, and the deer continued grazing in the yard. no matter how impressive the clouds and the lightening and the thunder were, i ignored all the signs that it wasn’t going to dump its load here. We got a few drops but, once again, it wasn’t our turn.

And then something amazing happened! After all the storm clouds had gone, everything on the radar had passed us, and i had covered the rain barrels back up, a completely new circle appeared on the radar out of nowhere right over our town. It poured buckets even though there were no more dark clouds to speak of in the sky. I ran out in the rain and uncovered the barrels again. I shook my head. There was an old man in heaven reminding me that i’m still full of shit and can’t read the weather worth a darn. 🙂

The sky minutes later

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