A Do-Over of the Epic Rainstorm on Monday, October 29, 1973
Previously, I had written of this epic rainstorm when I was 10 years old and in the fifth grade. On that unfortunate day I was not wearing my raincoat. This is my version of what should have happened.... Most of the details of the day are still true. I have added some characters and some details to enhance the story.
Today, October 29 is the anniversary of an epic rainstorm in New Jersey in 1973. It was my fifth- grade year. The rainstorm occurred on a Monday, the day that students returned to school after a weekend. Since the middle of September in 1973, New Jersey was in a severe drought with just a trace amount of rain. I can recall the months of September and October that year being especially mild. The opening weeks of school that year were especially hot and uncomfortable. The last significant rainfall was on a Monday very early in August when several torrential thunderstorms just parked over Central New Jersey dumping enough rain to cause major flooding. There was one afternoon and evening of heavy rain on a Friday in mid-September. I needed my raincoat to walk home from school that day. The Triple Crown champion Secretariat lost a horse race on a muddy track two weeks later after another Friday night of rain. Then the drought began. The turf at Belmont Park hardened and Secretariat set another world record in his next race. Cheering on both Secretariat and the Mets in the World Series that fall, I forgot about the drought and the fact that my raincoat remained stuck in the closet unworn for weeks on end. Then seemingly out of nowhere we were forecast to have a deluge that would end six weeks of drought on the last Monday of October.
As was my custom and anticipating an all-day downpour spent wearing my raincoat, I listened to the Sunday evening weather forecast on News Radio 88 from New York. It called for rain all day on Monday, heavy at times, with northeast winds of 15 to 25mph. Then I watched the local NBC television news to hear the same forecast from Dr. Frank Field who even reminded parents that their children would need to wear their raincoats in the over three inches of rain that he promised would fall the next day. Wanting to wear my raincoat in a downpour more than anything, I would go to bed anxious and jumpy. And totally excited over what the next day would bring.
In the small city just to the west of our suburban town, the daily newspaper had a woman meteorologist who gave detailed comments and statistical records for the weather each day. The official record for October 29, 1973 in Plainfield, NJ indicated a torrential drought-busting rainfall of 4.63 inches. At 8:00 AM, the temperature was 43°. By the end of the school day the temperature reached 61° when the rain would be at its heaviest driving down in buckets. The rainstorm turned out to be everything that I was anticipating lying in bed the night before and much more. With excitement the night before, I began to anticipate wearing my raincoat and the raincoats that I would see on my classmates and many others. I pictured myself in my raincoat first.
In the 5th grade and at the age 10, I wore a single-breasted fly front zip-lined tan raincoat and carried a tan leather legal bag that immediately conveyed the image of a little lawyer! My classmates came to recognize and know me by my book bag, coat and boots since I wore my raincoat whenever it was raining or just threatening to rain. The raincoat was also my dress coat to wear to church and other sorts of formal occasions. I loved wearing my raincoat and even in fifth grade I developed a strong insatiable raincoat fetish although I did not know it as such at that time in my life. Feeling this fetish in all its imperative demands, the weather forecast and the build-up to a torrential downpour caused me anxiety and frankly nervous bowels knowing that the time for wearing my raincoat after the long drought would soon arrive. The only relief for my intense desire was that I could wear my raincoat regularly. I had outgrown my knee-length yellow rubber Weather Rite raincoat with the matching helmet hood by this point since I was quite chunky in stature. But my tan Briarcliff single-breasted raincoat with the zip-in lining fit me well and armed with the “rain, heavy at times forecast”, I couldn’t wait to wear my raincoat in an all-day heavy rain on the last Monday of October. I was the proud wearer of that raincoat since receiving it as a gift from my great aunt at Christmas 1971 when I was in third grade. I would wear that raincoat through the beginning of seventh grade in 1975. It stood up to 50 or more heavy rainstorms during that four-year period. I knew that we were sitting on a huge rainstorm that would soak my raincoat as much as the big rainstorm the previous year in fourth grade in November 1972. Every fall we seemed to have what I would call a “serious raincoat day”. Trying to sleep, I continue to think about the other streaming wet raincoats that I would see on my classmates at school in the morning.
An emerging raincoat option for elementary and junior high boys was the reversible NFL team reversible PVC rain ponchos which were sold by Sears and first appeared in their Fall 1972 Catalogue – in time for the wonderful school day downpour in November 1972 and for the rest of that fourth-grade school year. My parents had bought a green to reversible yellow New York Jets poncho for me to be kept at our vacation home in Maine and there it stayed 400 miles away. The introduction of this NFL licensed raincoat was timely as the years from 1973 to 1977 saw perhaps 25 rainstorms of 2-inch rainfalls or more on school days and on Sundays. In the fall of 1973, there were maybe 3 boys who wore the Sears NFL raincoat to school. I am sure these replaced outgrown yellow Weather-Rite or Rainfair yellow, green, or black rubber helmet hooded raincoats. These voluminous rain ponchos covered over everything including heavier outerwear. My three fifth grade classmates with these ponchos were lucky to wear monsoon defying rain protection. They had a little over an hour walk to school including a significant period waiting outside the school as the rain poured down on all of us waiting for the doors to open. Mothers, including mine, became enamored of these rain ponchos with their full coverage against rains that could range from drizzles to drenching driving rain that in winter could include cold wet sleet. In this October rainstorm, the rains would pound down on these enveloping ponchos making a heavy cacophonous drumming noise on the boys sheltered underneath their protection. The ponchos were probably the envy of some boys wearing other raincoats. Well they should be as these three boys in the football ponchos stayed driest of all!
High school students including my older brother Bob frequently wore adult raincoats – balmacaans like my tan Briarcliff or trench coats - which being just water-repellent would get very wet in heavy rains. The top half of the raincoat, especially around the shoulders, would get soaked through. These students turned their collars up and leaned forward into the waves of rain. In wind driven rain when an umbrella was useless, both high school and college students along with older adults expected their London Fog raincoats to get very wet. They learned to just rely on their raincoat as best they could and upon arrival at school or their place of work, hissed at the rain and shook off their outerwear, as if to display with a mixture of pride and disgust their most soaked raincoat to their friends and classmates. For girls and women who frequently wore dressier raincoats of lightweight fabrics which were fine for showers, a typical day of heavy rain would see girls and women struggle in these coats and get drenched. Today, the ladies in their raincoats would tussle with umbrellas; the torrential rain was merciless and would soak their raincoats right through. The best choice for females was to wear skirts or dresses with quick drying nylons fitted into boots. Slacks would get hopelessly wet and a lightweight sweater over a dress or blouse could serve as a makeshift raincoat liner. A plastic rain bonnet or silky headscarf was a necessary substitute for an umbrella.
I comforted myself thinking again about the television weather forecast and Dr. Frank Field urging parents – including my parents – “to make sure kids wear their raincoats to school”. And he said a second time for emphasis: “the kids are going to need to wear their yellow raincoats – it’s going to pour – they will be wearing their slickers tomorrow”. That was enough to send my mom right away to the coat closet, put the zip-in lining in my raincoat and lay it out along with my black rubber boots on my chair at the kitchen table. I rejoiced when I saw this before going to bed Sunday evening; I was certainly going to be wearing my raincoat to school in the morning.
I long suspected that my mom enjoyed wearing raincoats as much as I. We both wore similar Balmacaan raincoats. Her metabolism ran hot, and she might get cranky on a humid rainy day in the summer or early fall. It was only then that she might be less forthcoming with her direction to “wear your raincoat.” When it was a sultry rain just looking at a raincoat and especially a rubber slicker made her hot. Perhaps that was another reason why she would zip out the liner of my raincoat as soon as the temperatures hit 60° or above. But with her I could count on wearing the tan Balmacaan raincoat for any rain, sleet, or snow and for dress occasions or to church. She taught me to open my raincoat and fan it whenever I got hot and had me wearing it often enough so that it became second skin on me. Surely, my mom will have me snuggling into my raincoat after she warmed it up in the furnace closet before school. The words: “Wear your raincoat” were music to my ears.
I am sure that all over my suburban town, school mothers everywhere, having heard Dr. Frank Field’s Sunday night forecast, were thinking about how to dress their students for school and especially for the heavy rain. It was a horrible forecast and not an easy one to dress your kids for. The day called for head-to-toe rubber raincoats coats on everyone. But it was a 43° cold, raw, persistent steady rain that would start Monday. And a sub-tropical flooding monsoon with rising temperatures would end it. Two completely different temperature ranges for children’s outerwear. Then given the extended drought of six weeks, this was the first heavy rain of the school year. Mothers would have to find the long closeted rainwear on Sunday night and lay out the raincoats, ponchos and slickers for the next day. Or they would have to quickly find the raincoats in the morning. At the break of day the steady and intensifying rain set in. And the temps as expected were raw and cold. The cold morning with the forecast of heavy rain and afternoon milder temperatures gave nervous mothers an anxious choice: should the kids be wearing their winter coats this morning and then we can put them in their rain slickers after lunch? Or should just make them wear their raincoats now? The rain responded with a downpour; and the mothers were quick to go for the raincoats, pulling and jostling the raincoats out of closets or off coat hooks. For mothers of sons at an elementary or junior high school in 1973, these raincoats were most often the long heavy yellow rubber rain slickers with matching helmet hoods. Totally perfect for a day like this and the coat that covered up their sons like nothing else. The moms would open the yellow slickers and sweep the raincoats onto their young charges along with the helmet hoods and rubber boots with great rustling sounds. As they put the raincoats on their sons and fastened the brass clasp closures, both sons and their mothers loved the feel and aroma of the rubber raincoats. The anxious moms gritted their teeth and vowed to their sons: “The rain won’t come through this!” Mothers pictured their sons in their cape-backed raincoats and rain hoods bearing down and approaching the school under the gray leaden heavens pouring down their relentless rain. Getting your family ready for heavy rain was a personal challenge that put your motherhood on the line. The more the rain poured, the more these mothers met the challenge with long rubber slickers and zip-lined raincoats. But the gold standard in student rainwear for most mothers remained the long heavy yellow rubber slickers with the brass clasps, helmet hoods, and black rubber boots with buckles. All of these were oversized to fit over winter outerwear if the temperatures dictated.
Whenever mothers dressed their family for the rain, they didn’t think in terms of drizzles; they thought in downpours! They dressed their sons to be out in a drenching rain for hours on end in their slickers. In a strange sort of way for the moms, today - with its promise of heavy rain after a long drought - was a reprise of the first day of school. It was commonly accepted that school involved walking for the better part of an hour and then waiting for the opening bell in a pouring rain covered in a rubber slicker. Hugging their sons and inspecting them one last time just to make sure they were fully covered in rubber for the rain, the moms smiled devilishly as they sent their sons out the door into the driving sheets of torrential rain totally smug - knowing that their sons had a long walk to school in their zip-lined raincoats and rubber slickers – dressed for protection against a downpour that would have no let-up or relief. The moms even dared the heavens: “O God, you can drench these kids in their raincoats with no mercy! Drill this damn downpour right through their raincoats! Just soak them in their slickers! My raincoats will keep my sons dry!”
Mothers of daughters were not as confident dressing their girls for heavy rain. Just like the raincoats of their older sisters in high school, girl's rainwear was typically light weight and dressy, not at all meant for heavy drenching downpours that would fall today. I frequently saw the girls in my fifth-grade wear lightweight cotton-blend coats that had a clear plastic raincoat permanently attached over the printed cloth and that came with a matching rain hat. Of all the feminine-styled raincoats for young girls, these worked the best in heavy rain. Other options when the rain was drenching was for girls to wear a pile-lined long winter storm coat of rain repellent poplin, the girl's version of a Balmacaan raincoat, a girl’s rubber slicker with the brass clasps or a rubberized canvas benchwarmer raincoat. The taller girls seemed to have more options for raincoats that would stand up to heavy rain. They could borrow and fit into yellow rubber raincoats that once belonged to their older brothers or if the heavy rain made for a real emergency, a few girls might be able to wear one of their mother’s old raincoats. In short, with their girls, mothers had to really plan, adapt, and improvise putting rainwear in all possible combinations in a valiant effort to try and keep their girls dry. Bread bags were put over their socks or tights to wear inside boots to keep a girl’s feet dry. Some of the raincoats that were worn when the girls were much younger reappeared on them for a day of heavy rain. My friend Janet was able to wear a Winnie the Pooh raincoat from first grade right through to the fall of seventh grade in junior high school. The girls who had their own rubber rain slickers in more feminine colors such as red or light blue were both fashionable and among the best prepared for heavy rain. With the raincoats of my female classmates, I grew accustomed to seeing almost anything on them that might keep them dry. While I rarely saw girls in my own classes wearing helmet hoods with their slickers; this did happen. Girls must have felt super dorky wearing them. A good of a girl who wore a helmet hood was my friend Maura. She was two years older than me and a fan of Star Trek. She loved heavy rain and had a walk of over an hour to middle school in a long red rubber slicker and a helmet hood. She loved wearing her helmet hood not least because it made her look like the Tholians in the Star Trek episodes. She welcomed the challenge of her walk to school in heavy rain and took pleasure in wearing all of her rubber gear. Last year, she was in the last class to have their sixth grade in Muir School: a building that was exclusively dedicated to that grade level. Muir School had been a long and exposed uphill walk from our neighborhood and an even longer walk for Maura. Mothers would go out and buy adult size rubber slickers for both their sons and daughters in sixth grade. They needed these slickers in heavy rainstorms when they went to Muir School. I figured that these huge slickers would disappear in time with Muir School now closed but for the moment it seemed to be a rite of passage to put your sixth grader in a long and oversized flowing rubber raincoat and helmet hood. That raincoat was sized big enough to fit you well into high school. Of all the grades in my elementary school, the yellow rubber slickers seem to be the most prevalent among the sixth graders and perhaps their mothers were getting them ready for the long walk and the long waiting time upon arrival at the junior high school which for these students would begin the following year in seventh grade.
Still anxious, jumpy, and nervous, I came downstairs dressed in my favorite warm mock turtleneck jersey to wear under my raincoat. Not seeing my raincoat on the kitchen chair from the night before, I spoke up and said to my mom: “I really want to wear my raincoat.” “Don’t worry” she said: I’m warming it up for you in the furnace closet. You are going to be wearing your boots, your raincoat – everything!” Now getting excited, my stomach churned as I ate my oatmeal and I had to make another quick trip to the bathroom. Whenever there was heavy rain forecast, my oldest sister Amy and I would spend the night before the storm and the early morning blowing up the toilet. Both of us got excited over a day of heavy rain day. She would be as anxious and nervous as I with the effects of our inner turmoil manifesting in the bathroom. Amy and I were never calm and truly relieved until we were in our raincoats.
On the way to the bathroom, I noticed that my older brother Bob’s black Aqua Haven Balmacaan raincoat from the Robert Hall store was gone from the closet. Bob was now in his senior year and he had left earlier for high school. He was going to get totally drenched in his raincoat. I loved the way his black raincoat looked when it was soaked. It was as shiny as any slicker. The Robert Hall clothing stores were an institution in the New York Metropolitan Area throughout the 1950’s, 1960’s and 1970’s. They sold dress school clothing for boys and young men. The founder of these stores made his mark designing and manufacturing Aqua Haven zip-lined raincoats These became part of the dress school clothing for both boys and girls in public schools and in private and Catholic schools which were numerous throughout the region. Since the yellow rubber slickers were frequently outgrown for many students, a balmacaan raincoat from Robert Hall became the everyday outerwear for both boys and girls from age 12 through high school and college.
My two sisters had also left earlier. My oldest sister Amy was now in high school with my brother. Of all my siblings I felt closest to her. She was smart, sarcastic, and funny. Amy was a sophomore. In our family, she and I loved wearing raincoats the most. My aunt gave Amy a beautiful London Fog balmacaan raincoat midway through eighth grade. It was the same Christmas that my aunt gave me the tan Briarcliff balmacaan raincoat. As Amy had already reached the height of 5’9”, the raincoat fit her well. Consequently, we had matching tan raincoats and Amy wore hers to school with a blouse and a skirt over tights with a flair. Mom guided her carefully. Along with my Mom and I, she had the tendency to overheat easily. Amy and I would go through Ban roll-on and spray deodorants like crazy, making sure to coat both our armpits and underneath our breasts – a trick that both Mom and Amy taught me. (Sorry ladies. Boob sweat is an equal opportunity malady!) We truly sympathized with each other over our various private and unpleasant bodily idiosyncrasies. One of us seemed always to be waiting on the other to get out of the bathroom, especially on rainy days. Amy helped me to be more comfortable talking about almost anything including my love for wearing raincoats. We would tease each other, and she would encourage my beginning efforts at witty banter. She was almost six years older than I and in some ways was a surrogate mom to me. Now that she had her own London Fog Balmacaan, she was glad to be free of her long yellow Lacrosse crossing guard rubber slicker that she literally steamed up a sweat in. But her exchange with our Mom just before seven o’clock this morning was priceless and surprising. My Mom approved of any raincoat that Amy wore, she fully expected Amy to put on her London Fog that she always wore. Now, at the moment of decision, Amy looked out at the pouring rain and said to Mom: “With my luck, this rain is going to soak right through to my bra! Just put me in the damn slicker. I’d rather sweat my ass off in a raincoat that will let me get drenched in this frigging downpour. I’m going to be dressed for this damn rain if it kills me! Errrg! It’s going to damn pour! I’m going to soak this damn slicker!”
As I was only in fifth grade, I hadn’t caught on that both my mom and Amy got a sexual charge out of wearing raincoats. I was just starting to recognize how intense this feeling was in myself. My mom, of course, recognized the love for wearing raincoats that Amy and I shared with her; she had a daughter and son after her own heart and the desire that we had could only be relieved at first by wearing a raincoat. Mom called that wearing of a raincoat – raincoat relief! You could see her satisfaction when she bestowed that relief on herself when putting on her raincoat. And she knew instinctively how important that “raincoat relief” was for Amy and me. It could be 105° and gazillion percent humidity in New Jersey, but mom understood that when you needed to wear your raincoat, you needed to wear your raincoat. With Amy, Mom allowed her upon reaching ninth grade to curse about the rain and about wearing raincoats. Mom had long indulged in this habit herself and she would extend the privilege to me when I reached ninth grade. Then, I could bitch with them about the rain or about our raincoats – not in denigration but to express my attraction and to help release tension to better manage it and keep me sane – especially on a downpour day. I must say Amy and I felt right at home in the world of Mom’s raincoat relief.
Mom hugged Amy in her heavy rubber raincoat before she left for high school. The rain at 7:00 was still moderate but would get heavy by the time Amy reached school, swamping her raincoat and those of her classmates. Inside, they shook off their slickers and soaked trenches and raincoats in defiance of the miserable wet weather. The day was going to be long. It wasn’t going to end for Amy until after an afternoon basketball practice that lasted until 6:00PM, and dinner on the run before an evening study session at the library. Amy knew it was going to rain hard all day and probably all night, but she avoided the helmet hood of geekdom by wearing a beige rain hat with a wide brim with the yellow slicker. Normally this hat went with and matched her London Fog raincoat.
My other sister Hilary was only three years older than I. Her horn-rimmed round glasses marked her as a brainiac and a geek. Delightfully a geek. She was in eighth grade and late in the summer my mom bought her a navy zip-lined balmacaan raincoat at Robert Hall. Hilary looked forward to wearing it in the rain, but she quickly recognized that this was not the day to expose it to the weather. Today would be a total raincoat soaker. Not only was she a geek, but she was a weather geek. Adolescent girls could pursue two distinct clothing styles to dress for heavy rain. They could wear a skirt and put on quick drying pantyhose with their rain boots or they could dress down and wear jeans tucked into their boots. Both styles were then fully covered by a raincoat. Having the longest walk of all of us to her junior high school in drenching rain, my sister only had one choice. She put a flannel shirt and then a sweatshirt on over her jeans which she then tucked into her boots. Finally, embracing both her inner and outer geek, she pulled on her own long Lacrosse yellow rubber slicker with metal snaps and a helmet hood. Without comment or drama and rubbered up like a lady crossing guard she left the house 10 minutes after the high schoolers for an hour and 10-minute walk to the junior high school downtown. There she would have to stand for about 10 minutes outside the entrance with her classmates. The steady rain increased in intensity throughout her walk and became utterly wretched about halfway to school. From there on in and for the next 40 minutes the heavens opened on her, buffeting her raincoat and beating down a mild headache on her helmet hood. Walking onward she would periodically stop at each street corner before crossing. The rain poured and she stood like a statue in the yellow raincoat taking it all. The desire for wearing raincoats was just a strong in Hillary as it was in my Mom, Amy, and I but it burned more quietly. Hilary’s was a steady flame that fueled her cool rationality. Unlike her mother and two of her siblings who were moved by the weather for other reasons. Hillary was not one to curse the weather for any reason but to accept it and be dressed for it. She was an aspiring meteorologist and the day of a five-inch rainstorm was certainly a day for full length rubber slickers. She would not have dressed any other way. Her arrival at the junior high school revealed the practical reason for wearing the long rubber raincoat even more.
Hilary arrived at the junior high and joined a few hundred students – an entire sea of heavy full length yellow rubber raincoats and several seventh and eighth grade boys in the new Sears NFL vinyl ponchos waiting outside for the doors to open. The rain pounded down on the students as they waited in their ponchos and slickers. Knowing that the students were covered in raincoats, the teachers watched the rain pour down on the students relentlessly and beat their pre-teen hormones into submission before starting the school day. Some of these students were driven to school and in their raincoats, they stayed dry until they joined their classmates to wait under the downpour. The teachers looked out on all the assembled raincoats getting glistening wet. They made sure every student got wet down. Every inch of those slickers, ponchos, and raincoats would get completely drenched, thoroughly soaked and streaming wet before the school doors would finally be opened. Hilary stood out there in the parking lot and waited, covered head-to-toe in heavy rubber and taking it all. So did her classmates who without complaint wore their full-length rubber raincoats and they took it all! On any morning filled with heavy rain, junior high students were desperate about getting into their raincoats and slickers or covering up under their ponchos for a long walk. And then for those ten to fifteen minutes before school standing out in heavy rain. They had to be. They had to be ready for the wet down!
My younger brother Paul was already putting on an olive green canvas benchwarmer raincoat, rubber wellies and a knit ski hat underneath the hood of his raincoat. My mom was very good at strategizing rainwear on a day of heavy rain and it was evident that she put a lot of thought into this following last night’s forecast. With whatever rainwear we had we were going to be rain-coated to the hilt.
Now it was time to put my raincoat on and leave for school.I looked out the window at the red maple tree on our front lawn to watch the rain falling against it. The rain was falling in thick soaking sheets. I growled like a cougar in satisfaction at the sight of the heavy rain and I knew I was going to have fun getting my raincoat very wet and seeing all the wet raincoats on my classmates at school. My mom pulled my warm raincoat out of the furnace closet and she smiled when she heard me growl just like her as I put it on. Then she gave me my black Naugahyde winter bomber hat to wear over my raincoat. She had really thought this through. The bomber hat was both warm and waterproof. She turned the collar of my raincoat up against my bomber hat and then helped me step into my black pile-lined waterproof winter boots. Absent my New York Jets vinyl rain poncho which was up in Maine and the yellow sucker which I had long outgrown, she had me as waterproof as she could dress me. She saw how comfortable and relieved I was in my raincoat and how much I loved wearing it. She pulled on her own London Fog navy Balmacaan which had been drying out in the furnace closet next to my raincoat. Her raincoat had already gotten quite wet from taking my father to the bus for his commute into New York. He was going to get utterly wet in his raincoat with the long walk across Manhattan from the bus terminal to the place where he worked.
My mom snuggled into her navy Balmacaan raincoat and said: “O God, we’re going to get so damn wet in these raincoats! It’s just pouring. Then she turned to me decked out in my raincoat and said: “Try not to be a clown in the rain, Bozo. I know you love your raincoat, but the rain is pouring hard with no let up and you are going to get very wet no matter what. Just burrow into your raincoat and try to keep as dry as you can”, her tone of voice now lightening up. “Come on, let’s go out in the rain.
We got ourselves and our wet raincoats into the car. Mom would typically drive us to school in the morning and after lunch. We would have to walk home at 11:45 for lunch and then at the end of the school day at 2:45. The walk home at lunch was quick - about 20 minutes and at the end of the school day, usually walking home with classmates and friends - the walk took significantly longer. We also had to wait at guarded crossings to cross some busy streets. Even with being driven to school my brother and I were still going to get very wet going up the sidewalk. My younger brother had a longer walk to his first-grade class. The fifth-grade classroom was somewhat closer.
We arrived at school and Paul and I got out but not before mom reminded me to rely on my raincoat. “You’re going to get very wet but that’s OK. Just burrow down into your raincoat and don’t worry if you get soaked. The rain will not come through the winter liner And we can always get the raincoat dry again at lunchtime in the furnace closet. Look at this rain pouring down. It’s like a nor’easter in Maine. OK guys, good luck and make a run for it.
Mom seemed somewhat distracted. She certainly liked dressing me in my raincoat this morning. I noticed how with as much equal relish as I, she burrowed into her raincoat. All the while she spoke to me about soaking my raincoat, I knew that she was going to go out on several errands and soak her raincoat as well. You didn’t notice it as much in a normal rain, but when it was a downpour like this you saw how much she loved heavy rain. If there were a contest to see who had the most soaked raincoat, she could compete with anyone. I was lucky to have her for a mom.
I wasn’t going to run to class and risk falling in the heavy rain but I hunkered down into my raincoat and noticed how dismal the conditions were. It was a very dark morning and the skies were a dark leaden color. The brightest thing in the whole scene was the parade of students that I joined who were wearing yellow slickers and helmet hoods going up the sidewalk. About 30 yards away on another sidewalk going across the great front lawn of the school was an even larger number of sixth graders wearing many more slickers and helmet hoods. The distant yellow slickers looked huge on the sixth graders and I could tell that they were already drenched by cascades of rain on their long walk to school. It looked like they just spent an hour under a fire hose, and they were not happy about it. The sixth graders besides being big were a tough crew and I could overhear several of them grunt, groan, and even curse the pouring heavens and their raincoats as they walked up the sidewalk making great jostling noises with their slickers. “I just want to rip this raincoat off.” “Ugh! I’m dressed for a hurricane and I’m still frigging wet.” And “this raincoat blows” or “Thank God I only have to wear this cornball raincoat when it rains like this” or “My mom thinks this raincoat is going keep me dry. Yeah right. Ugh!” were just some of what I heard from the sixth graders. Like I said, a tough crew… I would have loved to have been a fly on the wall to hear some of the mothers an hour earlier forcing some of those streetwise kids into their slickers in the face of much resistance. “Wear the damn raincoat!” At school whenever there was all-day heavy rain, I had great fun taking note of the classmates in raincoats who otherwise never wore them. And from my brother and my sisters, I knew what lay ahead of these sixth graders on any morning of heavy rain when they reached junior high next year. Put on your big boy raincoats and your big girl slickers next year guys and gals. You’ll appreciate them then. Get ready for the wet down.
Closer to me, I could see that the rubber raincoats on my fifth grade classmates also had the added allure of being glistening wet. The rain was blinding and pelting in a downward wind-driven diagonal. Still, the rain was not yet at its predicted full force. But taking in the sight of all the students in their long billowing yellow rubber rain slickers and helmet hoods hulking under the diagonal slanting rain already made my day. This wondrous image of yellow slickered brigades of students dashing up the sidewalk through waves of sadistic drenching rain would be etched forever in my memory.
Coming up under the overhang of the school entrance, the rain buffeted at the shoulders of my raincoat. I was wet but unlike those in the slickers who walked all the way to school, my raincoat was just very wet, but not totally saturated. Inside school the teachers saw all of us in our streaming wet raincoats and said to us: “It’s a day for the raincoats!” or “I’m glad you are all in your raincoats today. You are well-dressed for this downpour!” One teacher joked at us: “you don’t just need raincoats; you need scuba suits. It is just like a hurricane out there” We took off our raincoats until we ran out of space on the coat hooks in the back of the room and then some of us had to drape their coats over the backs of our chairs. Some of my classmates mentioned to me again that I looked like a lawyer in my raincoat and briefcase.
I looked around the room at the class of almost 30 students and only three or four of us were not wearing raincoats. Among the girls I was surprised that almost half were wearing trench coats including some whose heavy plaid cloth raincoats and matching hats dated from the late 1940’s, a vintage hand-me-down from their mothers or aunts. The rest of the girls were in girl’s vinyl printed raincoats or rubberized canvas benchwarmer rain parkas like that worn by my younger brother. One other boy was in a black Balmacaan raincoat like mine. Another boy was in a black rubber slicker with the brass clasps. The rest of the boy’s raincoats were divided evenly between glistening wet yellow rubber slickers with helmet hoods or very drenched canvas benchwarmer raincoats. Raincoats now hung up or draped to dry them out, we were able to begin schoolwork as the rain continued to come down heavily outside the windows.
The End of Part One
Stories and fantasies about rainwear.
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