The Observer observed nothing last weekend but the rain. It came down on The Observatory in pails at times, the old oaks in the yard dripping dejectedly, their half-baked fall colors varnished in rain the temperature of spit. In a month, we'll all be November deep in coats and scarves. But for now, it's rain, and cannon thunder, and the blue flash of God's own lightning through the blinds, spooking the 26-pound cat so much that he compressed himself into a furry pancake and scooted under the bed, where he squeezed in between the stowed box fan and Spouse's plastic tote full of sweaters, yet to be opened so far this fall. There are tornadoes out there in the murk, grinding like black peppermills through towns. The rain on the roof says: "Shhhhhhhh," broken every so often by an acorn dropping onto the neighbor's aluminum carport, the noise like a lost wingnut from the space station falling into an iron kettle. The acorn will never reach the sanctuary of the soil. It will be scooped up and hoarded in a few days by our resident city squirrel, fat and happy as a little bear in this rifle-less paradise of oaks to spiral around and woodwork to chew. We should really do something about him, we think darkly, before he bites through the wrong thing and burns the joint down. The rain, meanwhile, says: "Shhhhhhhh."
There's floor-to-ceiling bookcases on one wall of the dining room. There's a torchiere lamp in there, and a footstool, and a big wingback chair that we never sit in for some reason, even though it would likely be paradise to one with a bibliophile's heart. We should sit in there more. The Observer built those bookshelves his damn self, on either side of a window seat where the cat mounds up asleep on sunny days when the seat is not strewn with our papers and books. We've always been covetous of houses with libraries, their Seuss-high library ladders spiraling up to leather volumes on impossible shelves. So, when we finally bought our little house on Maple Street, the bookshelves came before almost anything else, cussed into existence out of a pile of Home Depot birch plywood over the course of one hot summer. On rainy days, we go there and browse, running our finger over the spines of books, bending low for those we've neglected for weeks or years, picking one, reading a few pages, putting it back. It's a beautiful thing on a gray day.
On Saturday, during the rain, we were browsing, the reading finger pausing and then moving on, and we pulled down a big book of art photographs, bought at Square Books in Oxford, Miss., an age ago. When we opened it, a folded piece of paper fell out. On it: a drawing of a mighty steamboat rolling on the river at full bore. Below it: "Happy Farter's Day! Love, Sam" On the back, in The Observer's own hand: "Age 8."
Do we have to tell you that the correct spelling of "Father's" had been carefully erased and penciled over with "Farter's" in Junior's careful print? Probably not. He was 8, after all, and fart jokes are pretty much the "Who's on First?" of the 8-year-old set. Too, if you've watched this column for the past 13 years, you know Junior's humor has veered toward the scatological more than once, even though he has grown these days into a serious and thoughtful 14-year-old — too serious sometimes, we think.
That Happy Farter's Day from the past gave us a hell of a smile on a rainy morning, however, so after a moment of reflection on how the years have rushed past us like a sparrow on the wing, we folded the paper back into the book, reloading the grin bomb once more for A Future Observer to find once more, in some future year, on a future rainy day. And we closed the book. And we smiled at it again. And we put the book back onto the shelf, sliding it in until it thumped against the back of the bookcase we'd shaped and painted with these own hands. And there came the crack of another acorn falling for the bear-fat squirrel's winter hoard. And the hand of the clock marched, tick by tick, toward November. And the rain on the roof said: "Shhhhhhhhh."