When I was little, Susan and the Rain was one of my favorite books. Of course it was partly because my name is Susan, but also because I hated the rain. Here’s how it starts:
Ultimately (spoiler alert) her grandfather sends her a package containing a raincoat with matching hat, shiny black boots, and an umbrella, and she discovers the joys of splashing in the puddles. “Why the rain is fun,” she says at the end.
I never had that epiphany, even though I have owned plenty of raincoats, boots, and umbrellas. While those items are necessary for dealing with rain, they still don’t make it seem fun to me. One of the aspects of the Woodstock movie that made me glad I hadn’t gone was the sight of everyone cavorting in the rain and mud. I knew I would not have enjoyed that.
When I moved out to California for law school in the fall of 1974, I didn’t know that a major drought was about to begin, which would last until 1977 (just like my time in law school). That winter I marveled at waking up every morning to beautiful blue skies and sunshine. Everyone else was enjoying it too, for a while, but by the third year of no rain, people were getting worried. I have to admit that I continued to love it, even though I knew the farmers were suffering. Life was so much more enjoyable to me in sunshine than in rain.
Although Davis had its good points, by the end of my first year of law school I had decided to transfer somewhere (anywhere!) back east, because I missed all my friends and family, and didn’t like being 3.000 miles away from them. I planned to get the transfer applications in June, when I went to Boston for the wedding of some very dear friends from college.
I have posted this picture before of the California tan I had at the wedding. All that spring I had used my lunch break to lie in the sun on a ledge at the law school building, and I had turned this amazing shade of bronze. The wedding was great, and I saw all my friends who were still in Cambridge and environs.. But I was shocked to notice how sticky and unpleasant the summer weather was. Although I had spent my whole life before law school on the East Coast, and assumed that that was what summer felt like everywhere, after one year in the dry climate of California, I couldn’t bear the humidity. So I abandoned my transfer plans and went back to Davis in the fall. And then ended up staying permanently. People often ask me how it is that I, an avowed Easterner, ended up living in California, and for the past forty years I have had a six-word answer: I was seduced by the weather!
So clearly weather has played an important part in my life. In recent years, since I retired, I have toyed with the idea of moving back to the Boston area, and have tried to convince my husband that it would be a good idea. But in truth, the winters are too cold for me now, and the summers still too humid. So I would really only want to live there in the spring and fall.
Often we think that talking about the weather is “small talk,” something to do when you don’t have anything important to say. But I find the weather to be an important and interesting topic. When I am on the phone or in a chat with someone who lives in a different place, we invariably talk about the weather – is it hot or cold, raining or sunny, a day when you want to go out or one where you prefer to stay at home. It’s an important aspect of life.
My mother always kept track of the weather in each of the locations where any of her children or grandchildren were living, even in her declining years. While I only became aware of it towards the end of her life, I suspect she had always done it from the time we left home. Every single morning she would turn to the weather page in the local newspaper and mark all the cities where we lived (or the nearest big city) with a highlighter or colored pencil, then check out what the highs and lows were, as well as whether there was rain or snow, clouds or sun in the forecast. Her Florida paper made a huge deal about the weather everywhere in the world, taking up an entire page, because they wanted to show that theirs was the best. My mother’s motivation wasn’t competitive, she just felt like she could keep in touch with all of us by knowing what our weather was. Most newspapers probably have a page like this – I don’t have one from Florida, but here is one from my local paper, where it is only half a page. It shows cities within the state in the left half, then all the other major cities in the US in the upper right, and finally cities around the world in the bottom right. (If you click on it, you can make it big enough to read.)
The idea of feeling connected to someone by knowing what the weather is where they live is kind of charming, although imprecise. If she had known more about how to use the internet, she could have gotten much more specific weather information for each of our locations. For instance, my oldest daughter has been living in various small towns in Spain for the last several years, and all my mother could get was Madrid. But that was good enough for her, so it’s probably it’s just as well that she didn’t have access to a weather app.
Nowadays, with global warming, the weather can be pretty scary. There are many more hurricanes, tornados, tsunamis, and wildfires then there used to be, as well as every other kind of weather disaster. We need to listen to the scientists about how to slow down climate change, but the current administration doesn’t even believe that there is a problem. Another reason to mobilize and make sure that next year’s elections bring new leaders who will take action before it is too late!
I like your children’s story about Susan Amantha who likes the rain. Amazing how these stories stick with us our whole lives, isn’t it? (I confess to having some childhood books myself.) I’ve never lived in any other climate besides this one; Detroit, Chicago and Boston have similar climates. Boston used to be less harsh, with the ocean acting as a tempering force, but I’m no longer certain that’s true. So I’ve always known four seasons and humidity. I have NOT been seduced by weather. Now, when my husband talks about going someplace else for the winter, I can’t imagine where, as I don’t want to live somewhere where the people aren’t as liberal as I am, and most of the warm weather states attract older, wealthy conservatives. No thanks!
Thanks for your comment, Betsy. Of course Susan Amantha DIDN’T like the rain, that was the whole point. I don’t actually still have the book, I found the picture and the text of the entire book online on someone’s blog. As to warm weather places for the winter, I think you would be pleasantly surprised to find that there are plenty of them with people as liberal as you – even if they are in fact older and wealthy (and that varies), it doesn’t necessarily mean they are conservatives.
Suzy, our mothers shared the same obsession with the weather where anyone they cared about lived. Like yours, mine would choose the closest big city and then be certain it must be the same wherever her loved ones were. I love your tan photo! I can’t believe, as a lover of children’s lit, I never read Susan and the Rain. Like you, as I watch the Amazon rainforest burn, I worry about the price we are paying and hope that 2020 is not too far away to fix things.
Thanks for your comment, I just left one on your story as well, about our mothers’ similar approach to the weather. Glad you like the tan photo. I only have it because many years later (at least 30) I was visiting the friends whose wedding it was, and started looking at their wedding album. When I saw that photo of me, I had to take a picture of it! I cropped out the guy I was talking to, because I had no idea who he was!
Suzy I have to laugh about your mom’s weather obsession. Just like my dad’s. Any telephone conversation – every Sunday like clockwork – would begin by a back-and-forth about weather. Dad would ask about a weather incident or two or three that occurred in my vicinity during the week, and I would reciprocate. I find myself doing something similar with my sons, both of whom live in New England.
And your California tan! Wow! The only time I ever got near that color was courtesy of a spectacular time in Ocean City NJ in 1962. To which my dermatologist would now say, “Aha”.
Yes, your description of the phone conversations – and ours were every Sunday too – is exactly right! Interesting that you find yourself doing that with your sons now. I actually don’t, but two of my kids are in the LA area, so their weather isn’t that different from mine. The third is in Spain, but it has never occurred to me to ask her about her weather. As to my California tan photo, I’m lucky to have it – see my comment to Laurie above.
Cute story, Suzy, and couldn’t agree more that, like you, I was seduced by the California weather. Rain and humidity were never my thing, and moving to California was a revelation. I’m too fair to have gotten that amazing California suntan, though!
Glad to hear that you were seduced by the weather too, Marian. We Jersey Girls have a lot in common!
Great story, Suzy. You note that weather is typically a casual conversation starter and yet, for you, weather has been, if not exactly destiny, certainly a significant contributing factor to your life decisions. And maybe that is a bit hereditary, as you nicely work in your mother’s long-time focus on the weather in the context of keeping up with her kids. A really lovely observation.
Incidentally, I trust you know you’re still welcome back to the Boston area. And it hasn’t even been wicked sticky in recent weeks.
As I said in my story, for me talking about the weather is not “small talk,” although at times it certainly can be – like when it’s pouring out and people make comments like “is it wet enough for you?” or “nice day for ducks.” And speaking about hereditary, my daughter Molly based her decision about where to go to college almost entirely on the weather. She was seriously considering a great school in Florida until she spent some time in humidity.
I remember the power, the joy of being waterproof in the rain. Your book written just for you must have been pretty kicky. A great adventure tale, the weather taking you from your mother’s newspaper in Florida to the sunny surroundings of Davis. I confess, I’m a sucker for California weather, too. You described the sobering effect humidity can have, especially after cavorting in CA’s sunshine. I use maps to help connect with friends and family I miss, but clearly, as your mother demonstrated, checking on the temp helps a little. I’ve stopped taunting my east coast friends with the weather we’re experiencing altho now, as you say, being surrounded by wildfires and sucked dry by drought play havoc with California’s ‘free ride’ weather.
Nice to hear from another Retrospecter who grew up on the East Coast and chose to live in California weather. You’re right that our “free ride” weather isn’t as good as it used to be, but it’s still better than most other places one might consider living.