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Whatever Happened to The Perennial Line Storm?

THE telephone, while loudly defended by the telephone company, remains something of an uh-huh to me. While my editor here sometimes calls to ask if I spelled cjklfpmnys correctly, and that is important, other calls run to a polite female voice of honeyed diction, which inquires if my septic tank is operating within environmental limits.

I am not altogether receptive to such downright calls, as they usually come during the hot mince pie interval and my attention is otherwheres. To such I generally say, ``I do not know, but will gladly step down into the field and see - this will take 40 or 50 minutes. Will you wait a time with patience?'' Then I place my telephone on the windowsill and return to my pie.

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One time, a neighbor woman said curiosity egged her to find out, and these young ladies are selling something. But I got a call during the pie back in September, and it was from Lady Ann Armstrong, who speaks more like a human being and can tingle my pie-ety time whenever she likes. She said, ``Whatever became of the line storm?''

``We'll have one,'' I said. ``We always do. But what brought this on?''

``Nobody seems to know anything about a line storm these days,'' said Ann. ``I got curious and began asking around, and some of our richest lobster-catchers never heard of a line storm.''

``They call it something else,'' I said. ``Forty or 50 years ago some college professor said the line storm was an old weather saw and had no basis in meteor-whatchamacallit, and all the storm reports began calling a line storm a disturbance. We'll have one. I'd say about Sat-dee. Begin to make up Friday. You'll find the radio weather prophet will call for possible thundershowers and afternoon clouds, with onshore winds and six-foot seas.''

Ann said, ``You've restored my faith in the eternal verities.''

``My privilege and pleasure,'' I said. ``Anytime.''

I never understood why the meteorologists decided to eliminate the line storm. That is, they didn't eliminate it because we still have one spring and fall, but they did away with speaking of the line storm and, seemingly, persuaded people to forget.

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We did have our autumnal line storm here in faithful down-coast Maine just as I told Ann we would - it began to make up just after the full moon, and on Friday, Sept. 23, on the change of tide, we got the first suggestion of an onshore easterly breeze. After sundown it braced for a sinkspout night. Rain beat against the windows all night and kept up the 24th.

We had our line storm, and the silly boy on the radio insisted it was probable showers and continued clouds.

With us, thanks to a new-day septic system, we don't rely on the sinkspout. Back before sophisticated plumbing, our rural kitchen sinks were fitted with a simple ``gooseneck,'' which was a short piece of lead pipe that led the ``waste'' from the cast-iron sink out through the house wall to the dooryard. Imagine that!

The lead pipe, or sinkspout, stopped in midair and when Mother dumped the dishpan, that part of our dooryard was irrigated so the rhubarb root planted there on purpose did well and was ever-ready to relieve the tedium of a steady diet of mince.

The environment is a fine thing, but so was a strawberry-and-rhubarb pie in sinkspout days. And that stub of a sinkspout, thrusting into the atmosphere, was far more accurate in forecasting the weather than all the instruments and stratosphere gadgets in use today.

The wind, from a gentle summer vesper to a howlin' no'theast gale, would strum and pipe and tootle on the sinkspout, and without putting a foot over the door stool, Mother would know if today was a dryin' day or should she hold the wash until tomorrow. Toot-toot, whoo-whoo, and wow-wow, and when our line storms began to make up as the sun crossed the equator, it was good to have a sinkspout you could rely on. Every radio station should have one.

It happens that we no longer have a flaunty sinkspout, but we are well served by a substitute porch light. We have it less for front-door illumination and more to see if it's snowing. Come winter, as we await bedtime within, it is useful to look out and see if it's begun to snow. So we flip the switch, and the lamp informs us.

The lamp does double duty as a sinkspout, as the wind will tinkle the little panes of unputtied glass around the electric bulb. Come a telltale shift of wind in the night, and the glass goes tinky-tink. If it lightly tinks, that's another of those possible showers, but if it makes a taradiddle or a paradiddle, whichever comes first, we realize the season has advanced and the sun is again at the line.

A friend told us he could stand on a stool and pinch the lamp with pliers so the glass would be tight and wouldn't tinkle, but we told him to let our sinkspout alone.

Those professional weather experts who belittle the scientific foundation of the line storm are like Noah. Noah, because he knew a thing or two, thought he knew it all, and he told his boys it was just going to be a shower.

The line storm comes after a dry summer and is the first rain to begin bringing the water table up to a normal seasonal level. Our Down East adage runs, ``Winter never sets in until the bogs are full of water.'' So the line storm serves its purpose whether it exists or not, and you'd best count on it or hang up your skates.

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