Old Norse Gale
By Veronica Randolph Batterson
(©Veronica Randolph Batterson)
The wind howled. Its force shook the walls and rattled the old shutters, which barely hung on as they slammed against the house. The lights flickered in the dark, dimming then illuminating, fighting to stay lit as the nor’easter battered the coast with ferocious strength. Waves pounded the shoreline, leaping high over trees and flooding the earth.
He huddled in the corner waiting for the water to seep under the door. It would slip in and then recede, before invading the wooden planks like a snake creeping across the ground. The aftermath meant a musty and fishlike smell that lingered for months.
They told him he should sell the place and it was in times like this that he wished he’d listened. But the old homestead meant too much to him to part with it; the walls held secrets close to his heart. So he dealt with Mother Nature’s hell and fury, cleaned up after her and lived the rest of the time isolated with his thoughts. He’d die in the place, he was sure of it.
Thunder bellowed, fighting to be heard over all the angry sounds of the storm. Lightning accompanied it, the sudden flash causing him to jump. He pulled the coat tighter across his chest, as if doing so would provide protection against the battering gale. It caused him to think of his grandfather. His ancestor relished storms such as this one; the man’s Scandinavian blood toughened him for it. Denmark had been his native country and he often spoke of their Viking heritage with reverence.
“Never you worry, these storms are galinn, a voice from God,” he remembered the man saying, the Old Norse tongue slipping as it often did. He never understood his grandfather’s language, but he loved the sound of it. The burrs and the rolls slid from his tongue, creating the oddest resonance, but it was soothing. And the man’s reference to “God” varied, sometimes using “gods” instead, a nod to the pre-Christianity ways of his ancestors.
He had never felt afraid when his grandfather was near, a feeling he’d missed for decades. Now he was an old man himself, with nothing much to show for it and no one left to remember his time on earth. He’d been stubborn in his life, loving passionately only one woman, and caring little for the rest. His grandfather, the man who had raised him, chastised him for his ways.
“Ye’ll regret your choices, mark my words,” came the man’s retort, “a lesser man wouldn’t care, but I know ye do.”
He did care and he hated himself for it. Caring meant feeling so deeply that all of life’s hurts wounded your soul. Love and compassion were words that wrecked havoc with a person’s life; physical pain was an easy fix, but not your core, he reasoned. And he learned a lesson with the woman he had loved.
“Not your heart,” he muttered, as the storm raged and tree limbs brushed the roof. “Too much disappointment there.” So he spent a lifetime of numbing himself to the world’s ways, of feeling nothing and getting by day to day.
A sudden crack then a loud boom filled his ears and shook the foundation of his house. He guessed lightning had just struck a tree, bringing it down and by the sound of things, it barely missed falling on his roof. He figured if a tree had taken his home but spared him, he’d viewed it as rotten luck, even though he would finally be rid of the place. There would be no rebuilding after that.
“That wind is beastly, son,” came his grandfather’s voice. The memory brought a vision of the old man standing outside during a hellish storm, his gray hair wild about his head and a smile plastered on his face. Soaked but standing tall, his grandfather was calm and at peace during chaos and the elements. He wished he could’ve been more like the man.
No matter how hard he tried to emulate the strength and kindness he’d been shown, he couldn’t. Put simply, he was weak and hot-tempered and no amount of numbing himself from emotions doused the simmer inside of him. He’d been hurt by the woman he loved and in turn he hurt the others who followed her. The resentment built a wall and nothing could tear it down. He’d never allowed it.
“Ah, my John, open your heart, son,” his grandfather whispered. He heard the voice over the bellowing wind. “Let it feel.”
It was as if the elder man’s soul had returned, fighting to be heard over the storm but falling on ears that were too old to change.
“But wait for me, Grandpa Jack,” he heard himself say, running after the bearded and larger than life man. He’d been about seven and wanted nothing more than to go fishing with his idol that day. But dark clouds hung low and the water grew choppy.
“Ah, we’ll not fish today,” replied his grandfather.
“That color in the sky is not good for fishing. And the water is fussing a little too much.”
“What is it fussing about?”
“Well, let me see,” he began, rubbing his chin. His whiskers slid between his fingers as he looked toward the ocean. “It could be she’s a little tired. It’s a lot of work providing fish for us to eat and water to sail upon. Sometimes she has to remind us to appreciate her.”
“Then can we fish when she’s done reminding?”
His grandfather had thrown back his head and roared with laughter. The sound carried across the wind and echoed through the trees. “Ye’ll be the death of me, lad,” he’d said, adding, “yes, we’ll fish when the reminding is over.”
A pane in the front window shattered, bringing his thoughts to the present, while the lights flickered one last time before losing the fight with Mother Nature. He sat in the darkness, the flashlight and lantern at his side. He made no effort to use them. He didn’t need to see the inevitable.
The old house had been his refuge, a place his grandfather built. It stood as sentinel more decades than he had been around; it weathered the storms outside and those within him. He observed and learned from his ancestor the way to be a good man, while the walls watched his struggles to follow in the man’s footsteps. He could never desert it. The very gales his grandfather loved would claim it and then it would be right.
“Are ye ready, lad?” the tired voice asked.
“I’m ready,” he replied to the empty room. He could feel the water at his feet and hear the boards creaking beneath. The wind continued to fist its anger, seizing anything in its path; a tree branch broke through another window. His Viking gods were telling him to find safety but he couldn’t move. Then he remembered the man, standing tall in the storm, face uplifted to catch the ocean’s spray upon his skin. Calm and at peace. He felt strength for the first time in his life.
“Can we fish today, Grandpa Jack?”
“Aye, today will be good.”
“I’ll catch the biggest fish for supper.”
“Will ye now?”
“Then are ye ready, lad?’
He opened the door, letting the storm enter. It seized the house, as if reclaiming something long lost. And it was right.
©Veronica Randolph Batterson