• Otter Views: Lightning at Big Jim’s

    by Tom Stevens

    diner-600This time we’re in southern Ohio, where Big Jim Eshelman’s Homestead Restaurant has the $4.95 T-bone special tonight. That’s the steak, salad, two sides, dessert and coffee. It’s the best deal in this part of America. Afterwards you can stand out in the parking lot and watch the hairiest lightning storm since Creation.

    This is not some faraway lightning, flickering and throbbing safely over the hills. This lightning is here, now, turning the sky bug zapper purple, caging Newark, Ohio, in sizzling bolts of incandescence too numerous to count. There! There! There! Look Out!

    It’s a lofty storm, originating at 45,000 feet. The night rumbles and mutters for a hundred square miles as the gods slam back and forth on their bulldozers. Ka-rack! Ka-boom! Ka-wham-wham-wham!!

    Then an eerie stillness; just the patter of warm June rain on asphalt, the hiss of tires speeding past. The lightning fades to a few jittery violet wires in the distance. Maybe the storm is passing over?


    A thunderclap splits the night directly overhead, and the whole sky erupts like a phosphor bomb. The flash stitches jagged lines of fire onto startled retinas; the boom crushes the brain like a pizza box. Inside Big Jim’s, a couple of window seat patrons glance up from their coffees and squint through the blinds. “Gettin’ closer,” one remarks. “That’n sound like it come down over’n Granville.”

    “Yup, I’d guess Granville,” the other replies. “Say, what’re you gonna have for dessert?”

    I can’t believe how blasé they are. My voice rising in panic, I address the room. “Get under the tables!!” I shout. “Lightning’s gonna take us all!”

    Heads lift from chicken fried steaks in a couple of booths, but everybody else goes on eating, talking, and dabbing up sausage gravy with pieces of biscuit. Wearing a look of concern, Big Jim leaves his post at the cash register.

    “Take ‘er easy there, fella,” he says, clapping a meaty hand on my shoulder. “This’s jist a little bitty drizzle. If it’s a storm you want, come back in a couple a months, tornado season. The sky turns green. We’ll get a line a twisters clear acrost the state.”

    “The sky turns green?” I say. My face feels green.

    Big Jim signals a waitress formed entirely of freckles. “Delores, bring this Hay-wine a piece a peanut butter pie.”

    Delores serves me the pie, hands Big Jim a mug of coffee, then departs in a blur of moving spots. “Wow,” I say. “That’s more freckles than I’ve seen on any five people.”

    “Lightnin’ did that,” he says, his voice hushed and respectful. “Put all those spots on her. But at least she survived.”

    “How horrible!” I say, taking a bite of peanut butter pie.

    “That pie horrible?” he asks. “Maybe you need some cinnamon ice cream on that.” He starts to signal for Delores again, but I’m able to catch his arm.

    “Gnoke . . . kpie’th fine,” I manage. “Weewee fine, fankth. Buh gubbaha dum waddah? Tmaw gudass waddah?”

    “Delores, could we have a glass of water over here please? Forgot we had a first-timer on the peanut butter pie.”

    I guzzle the water gratefully, then smile up at the ever-shifting connect-the-dots puzzle that is Delores. “Did you really get hit by lightning?”

    “Naw!” she laughs. “He tell you that? He’s such a big larr. I got these freckles at Waikiki.”

    “My cousin J.J. got hit by lightnin’ once, when we was kids,” Big Jim offers, forking up a piece of my pie. He chews sorrowfully.

    “Once?” I ask.

    lightning by kelly“Yup, once was enough. It kilt him, sure enough. We was standin’ in the school yard, waitin’ fer the bus. Rain and thunder was all around, but we didn’t take notice of it, bein’ kids. J.J. had a big cowboy belt buckle on that day. The bus pulled in and we started to run fer it. Halfway acrost the yard, a lightnin’ bolt hit that buckle and blew the shoe right off his foot. Died ‘fore they could get ‘im to the hospital.”

    What do you say at a time like that? I’m sorry your cousin got hit by lightning, have some more pie? I just stare sadly out the window. There’s lightning where I come from, but it doesn’t blow people out of their shoes. It just stays up in the sky where it belongs, pulsing rhythmically like one of those fake fireplaces in a Santa Barbara motel.

    When we were kids, nobody told us to watch out for lighting. In fact, on stormy days, our poor distracted mother wanted us to play outside. “You boys go out and play in the lightning,” she used to shout, surveying the carnage of some Tinker-Toy war. “And wear your cowboy belts!”

    posted to Cedar Street Times on October 3, 2013

    Topics: Otter Views


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