Memoir: Summer Storms

By Michelle Gunnin


The gray clouds rolled over the far away mountains creating shadows below.  They moved quickly, creating a shadow-race of sorts as if their sole mission was to be the first to pour themselves out.  This was accentuated by the low rumble of thunder heard in the distance echoing through the hills like a heavenly bowling match.  In places, the rain had already started, causing the trees to vanish into the fog. Whichever mountain was currently underneath when the clouds could hold their load no more, received the downpour.  In the far distance, the only change was color — from blue-green to gray.  However, as the shadows grew closer to our mountain, sounds which accompanied the visual display increased.  The hiss of the mist, the swish of the breeze, and the volume of the thunder made the proclamation that the storm was headed our way, and we’d best be taking cover.

Being as I was a small girl, I wasn’t out in the garden like the others.  I was sitting in a rocking chair on the front porch next to my grandmother shelling peas and watching the storm come. In the summertime, there was always gardening work to do, even for the youngest kids.  Shelling peas wasn’t my favorite.  It seemed to me there was too much work for so little reward.  Not to mention, I didn’t even like English peas.  Being stuck with the worst job, shelling a food I hated, knowing I would be required to eat it, later on, did not make me an enthusiastic participant.  The only reason I agreed to do it was because it made me feel important — like I had a place in the whole gardening project.  I also loved sitting with my grandmother as she worked circles around me in the shelling of peas, stringing of beans, or any other preparation task.  Her flowered apron was always in place over her lap, with a brown paper sack nearby for the strings and ends.  I can still hear the snapping noise of those beans mixed with the approaching rumbles of thunder.  We rocked and made conversation.  Funny, I can’t remember one thing we talked about.  More so, I remember the feeling of being included in something bigger than me.

The smell of rain arrived before the rain itself.  The hiss of a summer shower transformed the air and brought the rest of the family running to the porch for shelter.  All the rocking chairs filled and the swings as well.  It was a welcome break from the heat and the backbreaking work.  Shortly, sweet tea appeared and conversation commenced as the rumbles rolled and rain fell. Pop, my grandfather, was the corn shucking expert.  He worked in the garden too, but because he had one stiff leg, he was limited in the amount of bending he could do. At harvesting time, he sat on the front porch in a rocker with a little stool for his stiff leg.  He had a big grocery sack, in those days they were all paper, and a pile of corn nearby. He was aware the rain had just provided him with a workforce of help.  After a few minutes, he handed out corn and had everyone pulling off the shucks, filling bag after bag with them. Just as the storm was rolling past, we stopped and watched the rain for a bit. Then all the kids carried the naked corn into the kitchen.  Corn was something we all looked forward to, and we knew the more we prepared and froze now, the longer it would last into the winter.  When the rain was falling, the front porch became a bee hive of activity. The thunder continued to roll around the mountains as it moved on south, fading off into the distance.  Soon the “liquid sunshine” slowed as well. The temporary coolness that followed the storm, and the softening of the soil made for easier weeding, so it was back to the garden for all but the smallest.  We sat on the porch swing enjoying a small cool breeze that was a respite from the hot days of July in Georgia.

Once all the food was harvested and prepped, my mom, grandmother, and aunt would spend days in the kitchen “putting up” the garden.  Jars of green beans, pickles, jellies, jams, and creamed corn filled the pantry and freezer.  I wasn’t allowed in the kitchen underfoot, but I remember the hum of activity and the steam as jars were prepared.  The smells coming from there were heavenly.  My dad would come in during the apple jelly making for a taste, and my grandmother would give him one, then shoo him right on out.   We were city-folk, not farmers, but still, the garden was a summer ritual for a few years which brought us together through hard work and summer storms.

I would like to say I passed all the old ways on to my children, but it isn’t true.  They were a different generation, and I didn’t learn the gardening lessons well enough to teach them. Even when my son expressed interest in growing a few herbs for cooking, I had no idea how to help him do it.  It is kind of sad to me how harvesting the land has faded away. Everything has gotten so quick and convenient we don’t even think about where our food comes from most of the time.  Many kids haven’t been to a farm to see, they don’t even know meat comes from animals, as far as they know, food magically appears at the store.  In these times, we are busy in ways which keep us from front porch socializing.  The old and the young rarely cross paths.  Wisdom from one generation to the next is missing, and we wonder what happened.

I am not one of those people who complain about the younger generation, and about how if we just went back to the “good ole days” everything would be better.  I don’t believe it’s true.  I am all for progress and even technology, (Yikes, did I really just type that!) and I think the problems of the world need a generation who thinks outside the box and questions the status quo.  Things are not as simple as they used to be, and solutions will be complex and multilayered. However, old ways can still apply in new situations. Solving the world’s ills will require time and processing, kind of like planting a seed and waiting for it to germinate. If there was a short cut someone would have found it already. There is no magic.  Taking care of seeds planted over time will lead to growth, which leads to fruit eventually.  We can watch the storms coming, and smell them before they arrive.  We can take cover and wait it out, but while we wait we can talk and work as the storm brings a downpour.  We can preserve those things which we worked so hard to grow, like peace and harmony. The storm can soften the ground so weeds like division, and disunity can be more easily pulled. It takes everyone working on something bigger than themselves to prepare for the future…old and young, each bringing their own knowledge to the table.  I don’t long for the hot summer days in the garden, but sometimes I think sitting together on a porch watching a summer storm clear the air might be a good idea.

Monthly Contributor: Michelle Gunnin

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Michelle is an everyday woman who is a writer, a wife, a mom of four nearly grown children, a teacher, a colleague, a sister, and a daughter. She is also a cancer survivor, a caregiver, and a recovering Pharisee. She has more questions than answers, and she writes to explore both. She is determined to be in the moment and live fully…both things life has taught her. You can follow her blog at

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  1. Michelle – You have certainly painted a beautiful picture with your words in this post! I wonder if you’ve considered actually painting this memory as well – since you are not only a gifted writer, but a gifted artist?
    Your memoir transported me back in time to both the torrential rainstorms we had each day in the hot humid months down South, as well as front porch shillings with my own Grandmother. She and my Grandfather owned a farm in Bush, Louisiana and we often traveled there from New Orleans to visit on the weekends. She always put me to work 🙂 I too, disliked the shelling and the snapping but enjoyed many heart to heart conversations between Grandmother and Granddaugter. The only part of farming I DID like was going out into the field with my Grandfather and picking the best watermelon we could find, carrying it inside, and then watching and waiting for him to cut it, slice it and hand me the first piece to tast for approval!
    Thank you for a glimpse into your past and stiring up sweet memories of my own.

  2. Thank you, Michelle, for shelling and sharing a pod of delicious memories with us. I could smell the coming rain and hear the corn being shucked. I’m grateful for fresh from the garden stories that grew in my own family too. I wonder if my children will have their own gardens one day. They each had a tiny plot in mine when they were little.
    Blessings ~ Wendy 🙂

    • What a great idea to have a plot for the kids! Wish I had thought of that! Of course to give them a plot, I would have to have a garden. haha. I watch my friends around me here in our area gardening and think I like having friends with gardens better than having my own. My friends always share. 🙂

  3. Hi, Michelle. This piece was enjoyable to read and so aptly reminiscent of the past. The references to canning aromas immediately evoked those same smell sensations within me.

    Although a city boy, I experienced many years of canning processes and garden toil due to my much older parents who carried forward some aspects from their farm years in Nebraska and Kansas. Chickens and eggs were also a part of it.

    We did a lot of singing while prepping the veggies for canning – that did make the task more enjoyable.

    Thanks for posting this, Michelle…brought forth numerous enjoyable memories.

    • Glad to have tapped into the memories. I find I can be transported back in time by smells. Amazing how all our senses are also time travelers! Thanks for reading.

  4. Michelle – this is beautifully written and transported me to rural Georgia – not an easy thing for a city girl. I think most importantly for me, your piece exemplified “showing, not telling” – also not an easy thing for me. Thanks for sharing it.

    • Thanks Mary Jo. I was raised to be a hybrid…city during the week, country on the weekends. Best of both! I am a visual writer. I literally create the picture in my mind and then describe what I see. It helps with the showing part! 😉

  5. Michelle, excellent memory! You had pointed out how essential family community needs to rely on one another to prepare for winter. Today it is difficult to harness the same sense of family community because of careers and living out of state. I’ve always used the garden analogy in my personal relationships.
    Growing up we had gardens which produced bountiful amounts of food to last the winters when canned. I also was fortunate to be around extraordinary cooks. Being the observant little tyke that I was. I asked a lot of questions about how to cook, can, ferment and sausage making. I enjoy all I have learned. Unfortunately, not inspiring to others. Thank you for the memories. It goes to show you how important have relationships are.

    • If I remember correctly John you still use some of those recipes you learned…and yes, relationships no matter the surroundings are important. They are completely worth investing the time.

  6. You’ve taken me down a long lane of memories and helped me place myself on my family time. Thanks for sharing your story and your perspective, Michelle. Thanks, Scott, for sharing this insightful blog.

  7. Hi, Michelle. Wonderful reflection on those days gone by. The garden was work, conversations, learning how things grew, how to plant, weed, and harvest. A great metaphor for life, as you point out. If we’d all weed out the things in our lives that do not add meaning, or enhance the good, we’d probably all be better off.

    And I like that you included the memories of the women in the kitchen preparing the food for winter. Another lesson in working today to provide for tomorrow.

    I also didn’t pay enough attention, nor appreciate the work that went into those Sunday dinners. I’m like you; I just wanted to sit on the swing and then eat. That means I didn’t learn how to can or preserve. My loss.

    • Marilyn, I wish I had paid more attention, but then I think if I did all that work every year the memories wouldn’t be as magical. At least that is what I tell myself. 😉

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