When Daddy finished the evening milking chores, he went straight to the bathroom to wash up and shave as he always did. During the summer when Daddy was done milking, the sun was still high in the sky. But not today. The house felt unusually dark and shadowed. The air was heavy and humid, as if the world was waiting for something to happen.
I felt restless and uneasy, so I followed Daddy into the bathroom and sat on the edge of the bathtub to watch him lather his face. I chattered to him about my day. He listened with a nod and smile, then wet his special whisker brush and energetically dabbed it on the disk of shaving soap on the bottom of a coffee mug. After spreading the resulting white foam on his whisker stubble, he turned and grinned at me.
There was a flash of lightning. The bathroom light momentarily dimmed. I startled to my feet. Seconds later, a crash of thunder made me press against Daddy. He said, “It’s okay, just a little thunder and lightning.”
Mom nodded, sat forward in her chair, and called, “Kids, it’s time to pray the rosary.” To Daddy she said, “We’ll pray that the storm doesn’t do damage.”
When Daddy’s whiskers were gone and the smell of cows washed away, we went to join Mom in the living room. As he sat down in his favorite chair, he said to Mom, “The storm is moving in fast. I hope it doesn’t bring wind that flattens the oat fields.”
Well versed in our nightly rosary routine, my six brothers and sisters streamed into the living room, having left behind the books they had been reading, half-finished crafts, or cookie dough ready to be baked.
The frequency of the lightning and thunder increased as we slowly wended our prayerful way through the mysteries of our Lord’s life. I fidgeted and squirmed, distracting some of my siblings. Mom just gave me a look and I clasped my hands, trying to hold still.
Wind gusted through our farmyard right after our prayers ended and we said, “Amen.” Bright flashes of lightning followed by loud crashes of thunder didn’t lessen as the storm’s invisible fingers made tree tops dance, bushes twist and bend alongside the house. What scared me the most was the sound our windows made.
One of my brothers commented, “The wind plays the aluminum windows like a crowd of crazed harmonica players.”
The cacophony sounded like several people screaming in different pitches all at the same time. Some of the screams and squeals were high, others were low.
Mom grumbled, “We should have never bought those aluminum screened windows when we built this house.”
Compared to other farmhouses in our neighborhood, ours was brand-spanking-new, built the year before I was born, instead of in the last century. That made it about six years old. Some of my siblings were proud of our modern, new home. One day when we were out in the backyard, my brother told me, “Our home has asbestos siding, so it’s safe. Asbestos doesn’t burn.”
I looked across the yard at the old house where my family had lived before the new house. The wooden building was used as a granary now, and the upstairs bedroom served as a dove cote. It didn’t have an indoor bathroom. My brother pointed out that our new house had two bathrooms. One was just a toilet in the basement with a wooden enclosure Daddy had built around it for privacy.
My brothers and sisters liked to tell about dressing next to the stove in the old house living room during the winter, because the rest of the house was so cold. The new house had a big furnace in the basement, so all the rooms in it were warm enough to dress in.
Looking closer at the old house, I noticed that all it had for windows were just single glass panes in wooden frames. When Mom had complained about the aluminum screened windows on the new house, I thought she had said, ‘screamed windows’. I stood staring at the old house and wondered, “Why did Mom and Daddy buy our nice, new house something as awful as ‘screamed windows’?” They made such awful sounds when the wind blew, the name made sense to five-year-old me.