“It might rain tomorrow. Do you think you have enough canned goods?”
My mother called and inquired no less than six times a year about the adequacy of my supply of non-perishable food stuffs. She did this pretty much any time she augured some impending natural disaster, and once when a street preacher was a little too convincing about the coming apocalypse, calling long-distance from her sister’s house in Chicago to remind me that creamed corn keeps particularly well.
The occasion for today’s call is that tomorrow has no weather.
Which is not to say that it’ll be merely pleasant, or exceedingly bland — that sort of weather where you walk outside and feel absolutely nothing on your skin; room temperature, no breeze, no slow baking of the sun, indifferent humidity, limp atmospheric pressure. I mean simply that tomorrow’s weather has, at present, not arrived. The paper assured me earlier today that on Tuesday it would rain, and that the showers would taper off early Wednesday, likely long before the hour I normally crank up the Packard to leave for work at the plant. But upon careful examination of Sunday’s newspaper, there was nothing to found of the forecast for the immediately following Monday.
Suspecting a singular misprint, but careful not to imply credulity, neighbors were consulted and it was ultimately determined that of course none of the papers had tomorrow’s weather, as they were all printed en masse. It would take quite the meticulous prankster for it to just be me, and I had no enemies that I knew of.
It being Sunday, scheduled for partly cloudy — a potential harbinger of everything from light rain to melon-sized hail — no one thought to bother calling up the offices of the Milton Gazette, seeing as it was likely running on a skeleton staff during church hours, and it was deemed best to go about our morning’s spiritual obligations, eat a hearty lunch, and wait for the first radio broadcasts of the day at 12:30 p.m. sharp. A devout county if there ever was one, an ordinance passed more than thirty years ago stated that no one was allowed to operate radio broadcast equipment before noon on Sunday. It was amended for television as well in 1952, not that anyone had dared try so much as a morning news brief prior to that, let alone anything vulgar or prurient enough to draw the ire of the area churches, which are so varied as to include both Baptist and Presbyterian.
So, following sanguine heaps of spaghetti and speculative football chatter, our family, immediate — that is, my wife Anne and our two children, Alice (7) and Teddy (13) — along with our neighbors to the East, Bill and Lydia Lewski, tuned in the RCA set in the living room and sat with rapt attention as the weather report began.
Today will remain overcast with a 10% chance of rain decreasing into the evening and a midday high of forty-seven degrees. Expect light rain on Tuesday morning to get heavier in the early afternoon, continuing overnight and into the early hours of Wednesday. The high for Tuesday will be forty-five degrees. Wednesday is expected to be partly cloudy with a high of forty-six.
“Well how do you like that?” It was Bill. “It’s like tomorrow doesn’t even exist.”
Whereas a typical couple has one party to panic and worry, and one to remain calm in instances like this, Bill and Lydia were both agonizingly alarmist in the face of quotidian uncertainty. These were the kind of people who go a little crazy when there’s a fifty-percent chance of rain. Well is it going to rain or isn’t it? I pictured him asking as Lydia packed two umbrellas. Why can’t they just tell us if it’s going to rain? It either is or it isn’t, right?
We tried radio station phone line, but to no avail, the need for huge switchboards in cavernous broadcast-building basements for radio call-in promotions not yet reaching our humble locale. Not long after, the player introductions for that weekend’s Bears v. Lions game were interrupted by the weather announcer from earlier.
Due to heavy call volume, we are currently unable to process all individual requests for information at this time. Regarding tomorrow’s weather: We have no on-staff meteorologist at the Hancock County CBS station. Our weather reports are received from the regional National Weather Service office in Chicago. In this morning’s report, received shortly before the station went on-air, Monday was omitted, likely owing to an administrative oversight. When an amended report is received, we will once again pre-empt the broadcast to update our listeners with the complete forecast. Enjoy the game!
An hour and two Bears interceptions later: Oddly enough, folks, we cannot seem to find or remember yesterday’s five-day forecast, which it was just pointed out to us would solve this quandary of tomorrow’s weather. If anyone has a copy of yesterday’s paper, please call the station immediately. Anyone without an emergency or pertinent information regarding tomorrow’s forecast is asked at this time to not call in so that the lines remain open. Thank you.
The problem was that no one seemed to be able to find yesterday’s paper, which, considering that it was Sunday and there was certainly no trash pickup on Sunday morning (Ordinance 42, Section 9, Paragraph C of the Milton Township Penal Code), is a level beyond just regular odd, which is the level at which the day’s events had previously been operating. As the day wore on, more and more of our neighbors took to their trash cans in their Sunday slacks, in most cases trying to prove to a skeptical spouse that, yes, yesterday’s paper had come as it always had and, no, it couldn’t have just sprung legs and walked away, Bill and I both among them.
By evening, a couple of hours ago, the radio reported that the Chicago station didn’t generate their own weather, and was expecting a full report soon from a regional NOAA outpost in St. Louis, who were in turn waiting for word from the NOAA’s headquarters in Washington, D.C., who can’t seem to be reached at the moment.
Mom called back an hour later.
“Did you hear? They said the main office was closed. Something about a bank holiday.
There won’t be any weather tomorrow!”
“There was weather today, and they have the forecast for Tuesday. It stands to reason that we’ll have weather tomorrow, they just don’t know what it is.”
“What if it’s an awful storm?”
“This time of the year?”
“Yes, but what if it rains?”
“I guess everyone will just have to take an umbrella with them, just in case.”
On the phone with my mother for a second time, I started wondering if I had enough canned food for a few days, or if the latch on the storm cellar was too rusty to pry open on short notice. She, pushing 82, had said for the last five years that she can always feel rain coming in her joints, which hurt her “something fierce” in high humidity. I asked her if her joints felt like rain, and I heard my mother curse for the first time in the twelve years since dad died.
“It’s the damndest thing,” she said, “I just don’t rightly know.”
This story originally appeared in Metazen.