Send her down Hughie!

WAITING FOR RAIN Midwestern farm by Margaret Bourke-White.

A Writer’s first exposure to supernatural forces.

IN my childhood, rain meant something. It meant action.

Buckets had to be strategically placed along the hallway of our farm-house to catch the roof leaks.

It meant my father had to move fast, to get outdoors towards the approaching bank of clouds, cup his hands to his mouth and lean back into the wind, crying out: “Send her down Hughie!” as loud as he could. If my grandfather was around, he would yell it too.

“A farmer had to take things into his own hands, not by bending to his knees in prayer, but making a proactive, dramatic, full-throated invocation.”

I don’t recall asking what the shouting was for, like I don’t remember asking why we had to run around with buckets while mum lifted-up the rugs. Somehow it was part of the fabric of living on a farm.

Of course dad was doing what many farmers do, calling on the weather god to send down the rain and not miss our farm. So very often we’d see heavy showers passing to the south at the far end of our shallow valley, leaving our hillsides dry and cracked with the heat.

A farmer had to take things into his own hands, not by bending to his knees in prayer, but making a proactive, dramatic, full-throated invocation. Nothing less would do. You had to make a great gesture of effort, a visible show of need.

My father would also pretend to be the ghost of ‘Old Tom’ walking down the long hallway of our home, scaring me and my brother into our beds.

Seeing dad’s familiar figure pass in the half-dark, I was never sure it wasn’t ‘Old Tom’. After all, if your dad is yelling to a weather god, then anything could be true.

These days, people will try to tell you that ‘Hughie’ is Saint Hugh, the catholic saint associated with rain. Surfers apparently invoke Hughie for the best coastal conditions. Slim Dusty even wrote a song about him.

But none of that is what Hughie means to me. Hughie is darkening skies. He’s dangerous gales. He’s the hood on your parka flapping in the wind, while you think about getting inside before the storm hits.

STORM FRONT Cumulus panorama.

Hughie is fickle and chaotic. He doesn’t just drop the rain anywhere. He’s up there, riding the front of the weather where it’s so loud you need to wail at the top of your voice for him to hear you. To send down the rain, Hughie needs to see someone, and not just anyone. He takes orders only from the most stoic, the most reserved member of your household, and that’s always Dad.

When Hughie’s feeling generous, he’ll give you gentle, soaking rain when your crops are in and it’s time for them to grow. When you’ve pissed him off, he’ll send your sheds tumbling over themselves, and lift iron sheets off your roof.

Perhaps Hughie’s a stray weather god, stranded in the southern hemisphere, lost after some climatic sortie when people stopped believing in the pantheon of Greco-Roman Gods? Perhaps Hughie’s always been here, and we’ve just given him a new name?

For me, Hughie was a precursor to chaos. Not just bad weather, but death, divorce and family divisions. He chased me and my family off the farmhouse in the late 1970s, and I even felt him blowing around the town houses we lived in after that.

I became a weather-watcher, because I could sense a change coming. My parents’ separation, divorce, and our move away from the country was all played-out against a great tension I had due to the fear of abandonment. I could hardly go to school for fear of coming home to find nobody there, with thunderstorms raging outside and no-one to protect me.

That was Hughie.

The day we arrived at our new home on the fringe of the city, shell-shocked, I began to relax. Something about that place is beyond Hughie. He rarely makes an appearance there, with the cool climate gardens and higher average rainfall.

But I still feel him at work whenever I take off in a plane. He’s that gale which creates turbulence, reminding me I am no longer earthbound.

Next time you’re waiting for rain, think of Hughie. You’ll know what to do.

© Michael Burge, all rights reserved.

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