Groundhog day preview

I’m looking forward to today. Although I’m not exceptionally invested in the teams playing in the Superbowl, my wife’s family and my son are huge Pittsburgh Steelers fans. My boy is giddy, running around the house with a Big Ben action figure, a Big Ben jersey, and Steelers knit cap. For my part, I’m going to make gumbo and drink a few beers.

I read through the news before starting my day today. CNN’s ridiculous/brilliant iReport asked, “If you could re-live any day for the rest of your life, what would it be?”

This is probably going to be a good day. Life has been good enough to me, I can think of many others I would like to live over and over again. I can’t single it out to just one. Tomorrow, I hope to write about a few. In the meantime, here’s one.

From childhood

It’s summertime and the only thing keeping the air from being unbreatheably hot is the bank of dark clouds forming on the horizon. I’m on the blacktop, half-horseshoe driveway in front of our house on Yulan. The driveway had undergone many a change in my day. When I was younger, it had been gravel. At some point, my parents had it covered in black asphalt that bubbled like the roads when the temperatures hit 90 degrees. It wasn’t smart to walk on it in bare feet. We did anyway. In the summertime, no matter how much Mom made us wash, the heels and balls of our feet were speckled with black tar from May to September. A kid without black tar on his feet was a kid who was too sick to go outside.

On this day, my mom is inside cooking dinner. It’s something we can smell coming out of the tiny galley kitchen and through the front door. We lived in a small L-shaped home. My parents eventually added almost an entire house to it just so we could fit inside. Looking back, I think my parents probably would’ve rather moved into a new house than add-on, but my brother and I were happy in our school district. Moving would’ve meant going to a different school. I’m learning that a large part of parenting is learning to sacrifice. Back then, I didn’t recognize it. Where Mom found time to cook dinner for four people (and sometimes more), I will never know, but she did it nearly every night for at least 16 years. And then she maybe took a night off.

Dad has come home from work and is playing basketball with the neighborhood kids, my brother, and me. At some point in my youth, Dad put a cemented-in basketball goal on the curve of the driveway. It sat midway between the blue spruce my Grandpa Willis gave us and the plum tree that had been there forever. The plum tree didn’t survive too many more years. The blue spruce outlived my grandpa. My parents moved out of the place almost as soon as my brother graduated high school, but that basketball goal and spruce are still there. Google Street View shows the current occupants (who also happen to be relatives) were having some work done when Google dropped by. You can still see the basketball goal and now-giant tree on the other side of the workers’ white van.


KTTS radio will soon blare its signature storm warning alarm. Anyone from anywhere else could hear that tone and think the world was coming to an end. If Armageddon was setting down on southwest Missouri, that quick crescendo and decrescendo of alarm would let us know. I can’t find the tone online, but it is set so deeply in my brain, I hear it every time I see a big storm coming.

We probably knew the weather was on its way. Storms that rolled in out of south Kansas and northeast Oklahoma announced their intentions well in advance of their arrival. The breeze chilled the sweat on our backs. By the time the temperature dropped ten degrees in one minute, the wall clouds would be black as night and the leaves on the trees would’ve turned over to show their white backs.

On this day, we stop the game to watch the storm come in from the west. I don’t know if Dad even completely understands his fascination with the weather, but it has lasted through his entire life. I attribute my love for massive storms to the times I stood beside my dad and watched him watch the wind blow.

When the first drops start to fall, we run inside and let the summer storm blow itself out. We eat my mom’s always perfect food and collapse on the floor in front of the TV as it gets dark outside. By nightfall, the rain is gone and I can sleep with my window open. The attic fan will suck in the night air and make my bedroom the most comfortable place on earth. To this day, I have never slept as well as I did then.

My parents talk today about how dad worked too much when my brother and I were boys. Back then, both of my parents thought things weren’t perfect for us. I don’t remember that. The apparently frequent times my dad had to travel and work late when I was a kid are barely a memory. I remember the good days like this one as if every moment of my childhood was the same. Back then, my friends said I had the perfect life. Today, I would agree with them.

Brad Willis

Brad Willis is a writer based in Greenville, South Carolina. Willis spent a decade as an award-winning broadcast journalist. He has worked as a freelance writer, columnist, and professional blogger since 2005. He has also served as a commentator and guest on a wide variety of television, radio, and internet shows.

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7 Responses

  1. Little Willie says:

    Rock on, brother. I remember it like it was yesterday. Add in a late-night game of Monopoly or Risk with Gary and Alex and the day would be complete. Damn, life was easy then. I guess it still could be now, huh?

  2. G-Rob says:

    I haven’t played RISK in 20 years…or actually more…that sounds like fun!

  3. Sarah V says:

    I remeber lots of good times in your house as a child. It seems like a lot of the “great” things from my childhood involve your family, and the Casteels, from music parties with JB singing about a hole in daddy’s arm to pool parties your house was always a ton of fun.

  4. Skip says:

    Absolutely brilliant. Loved it, as if it had sprung from my own memory banks.

  5. KenP says:

    That first bit of cool breeze that escorted a deep breath of the freshest air that ever existed. That ranks right up there with the best.

  6. MGM says:

    I always thought you had a pretty perfect life. After all, your mom cooked you breakfast every morning before you trotted off to high school. I remember deeply envying that and thinking that you had no idea….

  7. Su says:

    Loved this post! Brought back some of my best Missouri summer memories. I miss those storms. We don’t get them like that out here in the west. Houses out here also don’t have attic fans. Miss the sound of the attic fan!