Most often, August sat on the porch, leaning back in a rocking chair. His feet propped against a post supporting the front porch. He was the commander of all he could see.
Usually, a bag of Red Man chewing tobacco was in his back pocket. He’d pull it out, open the bag and offer me a pinch. It was awful stuff. He laughed then stuffed his jaw. I was just a kid.
He kept a half pint nearby. He let me ride with him. We would go to the bootlegger’s house when he needed more.
He had some burdens I hope I never have to carry. I guess the whisky eased the pain.
Mainly, he was afraid of bad weather. Not just a little afraid, but a whole lot afraid.
When the sky turned dark, when thunder rolled off in the distance, August went underground.
My Grandmother had a storm pit. You can still see them out in the country. Shelters from the storms. Concrete doorways, a room buried in the side of a hill. Some elaborate, others were not much more than a cement lined hole in the ground.
When August lived in the country, he showed up at my Grandmother’s storm pit every time the rain clouds moved in. When he moved to town, his mother’s storm pit was too far away. August found shelter under a bridge that crossed the Homochitto River. People laughed. He didn’t care.
August was three years old when a storm came and blew my Grandmother’s house to smithereens. It was a tornado. People were killed. August was found slammed against the corn crib about one hundred yards from where the house once stood. He grew up knowing what a storm could do, being told what a storm did.
He was afraid of bad weather. Any dark cloud was bad weather.
This happened a long time before weather radar, before the weather man or woman on television. This was before television. This was when the closest radio station was in New Orleans, Memphis or Little Rock. Poor people didn’t have radios.
The weather rolled in and you were face to face with it.
August had already faced down a tornado, he didn’t want to face another. He found shelter.
When the big thunderheads rolled in, he grabbed a bag of Red Man and a half-pint and parked under the bridge. Sometimes, he would stay all day. Sometimes he would stay all night.
My aunt would go check on him.
Eventually, he had a proper storm pit installed in his back yard. Factory-made. Water tight. Underground with a solid door on top.
He liked having his own storm pit. He showed it to me the last time I visited him. Age had slowed the man, he had weathered many a storm.
Still, when storms came to visit, he went back to his bridge. He felt safe.
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