When I was a teenager we lived in Kalamazoo, Michigan, in the last house on a court. The house all were large and old, and no doubt many children have run and played in that court.
One summer afternoon in 1935 or ’36 a storm was brewing. The sky was growing dark and the huge oak trees that lined our court made it even darker there.
My two sisters, Ruth and Phyllis, and several neighbor girls were playing a made-up game that consisted mostly of chasing each other back and forth to the end of the court, screaming a lot. I was a little old for such kid games but that day I had “lowered my dignity” to join in the fun.
As lighting crackled directly overhead and thunder sounded almost instantly behind it, we decided we had time to make only one more dash to the end of the court before the rain came. We had run only a short way when we all came to a sudden halt.
Directly in front of us under the biggest oak tree was a man dressed all in black. His wide-brimmed hat and ankle-length coat were from a long-ago past. The wide brim of the hat shaded his face so we could not see his features.
Seconds before, he had not been there and we couldn’t understand where he had come from. Yet there he was, arm and palm held outward as if to warn us to go back. And go back we did, racing and stumbling onto our front porch.
We just had reached the front steps when a bolt of lightning blazed downward and with an earsplitting crash struck the pavement where we would have been at that moment if the man in black had not frightened us into racing home.
The concussion felt like a hand slammed into my back. Screaming, we turned to see where the man in black was. But there was no man! Only the smell of sulphur hung in the air and the rain came down in torrents.
Our father, hearing the noise, came running out and when we told him our story he dashed to the end of the court to see if he could see the man in black. But there was no one anywhere on the street.
Where the tall stranger came from and where he went we’ll never know, but we’ll remember him. If it hadn’t been for him we would not be here today.