Here is your weekly dose of Monday’s with Muddy, featuring the unpublished manuscript, Landscape with Figures, by my grandmother, Beatrice Allen Page:
“I was waked up in the night by what sounded like hundreds of mice scampering across the bare floor. Then I realized it was rain on the roof, a sound I had almost forgotten because it is so long since I’ve lived in an unplastered, unisulated house. I lay in the dark trying to think of the word or words to describe it. To say the rain ‘drummed a tattoo’ is not only banal but inapt: the sound is too think to associate with drumming.
‘Skitterbugging,’ it seemed to me, might be the right word for rain blown by gusts across the roof as some of it was. It suggests the same qualities as my momentary illusion of scampering mice: lightness, speed, and hundreds of tiny footsteps like pinpricks. But what of rain that wasn’t blown sideways, that was coming straight down? I fell asleep again thinking about it.
It was still raining when I woke up this morning, for the most part a steady, straight-down rain. I began searching my mind again for the right word, and thought of ‘spittering.’ A search in the dictionary revealed no such adjective but I found the noun ‘spitter’ with three definitions: (1) One who ejects saliva from the mouth, (2) One who puts meat on a spit, (3) A young deer whose antlers are beginning to sprout. The first two definitions didn’t evoke very attractive images and it seems to me a pity that such a lovely creature as a young deer should have to share such an appellation. In any case, I still had to find a word for the rain.
‘Pittering’ was my next effort. It lacked the wet sound of an ‘s’ in it, but otherwise ‘a pittering rain’ conveyed something of the quality I was trying to get at. Unfortunately, my dictionary contained no such word. I decided to drive over to town, even though I dislike driving in the rain, and invest in a more up-to-date and hopefully more complete desk dictionary.
I found one I liked and bought it, along with an assortment of paperbacks, even though a quick look had shown me it, too, lacked the word I was hoping to find.
On the way home I stopped at the village library and checked the Unabridged. My conviction that there must be such a word proved at least partially justified. I found the verb ‘to pitter’ meaning to make a sound suggesting that of a pit, as ‘pittering stream,’ and then a little higher on the page, ‘pit’ meaning the sound of something small striking, as a raindrop – ‘usually reduplicated as pit, pit, pit.’
How ridiculous to spend so much time looking for a word. But there is a fascination about any kind of search, be it for a word, a seashell, a piece of a jig-saw puzzle, a four-leaf clover. Granted there may be more important things to seek – a rare book, a new star in the sky, the Holy Grail, for instance. Or the big capital-letter abstractions like Truth, Meaning, Reality. Nevertheless, any kind of wholehearted search focuses the mind and energies and gives one a sense of purpose, to a greater or lesser degree.”