Summers Now Past

Or when I reaized Peter Pan had died.

My best summers are behind me not ahead.  If memory serves me, my best summers ended when my hand could reach around the end of a hoe handle or I became strong enough to heft a square bale of hay and toss it onto the back of a flatbed truck.  It certainly ended the summer I walked into the den of heat and noise that was Springs Mills.  Peter Pan died that day.  Despite my best efforts I had grown up.

The last day of school before the summer break.  Elementary school kids squirming in their seats waiting to cast off the chains of their forced imprisonment.  “I’m free, I’m free!”  And just like that, it was September again.

No more Tonka toys and little green soldiers in a sandy ditch.  No more corn cob fights with Mickey and Donnie Ray around the barn. No more playing war in red clay banks around the cornfield.  Fewer trips to the river to check trotlines or intently watching a bobber while praying for a bit of a nibble just to let me know something was down there.

Ode to youth now past.

Here in the foothills of the Blue Ridge a high-pressure dome is making life unbearable.  Hot, hot, hot.  Humid, humid, humid…but no rain.  Hotter than two mice mating in a wool sock and even the devil is bitching about the humidity.  Despite the humidity and the thunder that rumbled around yesterday, my garden is dryer than a popcorn fart.

There is something about the heat and humidity that brings the memories back.  I question how I survived without air conditioning but somehow, I did.  Tall screenless windows at school, perspiration dripping on notebook paper as I practice my letters.  A wasp flies through the window causing a momentary lull in the activities.

No reprieve at home or at church on Sunday.  Humidity and heat causing my shirt to stick to the lacquered seatback.  Ladies in pillbox hats, gloves, and long sleeves fanning as if their lives depend on it, and it may have.  Men in suits and ties sitting stoically in their own perspiration.  The minister announces with a thump of his Bible, “If you think it’s hot now…just wait.  Benediction please.”

As I remembered, my back was bent toward the ground as I straddled the short row of beans.  Perspiration ran down my nose and was soaked up by the dusty soil underneath me as the rivulets landed with a plop.  My sweat ran like the Catawba River during the rainy season when my revelation occurred.  I was thinking of a simpler time.  In my mind my grandmother is beside me, both of us straddling a row, the sweat running down both our noses.

Summer was the time to make hay while the sun shone…tomatoes, beans, squash, okra, watermelons, and corn too.  The sun shone hotly and pulled the moisture into the air encapsulating me in what seemed like a wet, wool blanket.  Hot, moist sun-heated air.  Squash and cucumbers wilting, corn stalk leaves drooping in the afternoon heat…humans wilting and drooping as if they were plants.

As I shift briefly to the present, I realize, there will be good Summers ahead…they will just be different.  Miller Kate and Noli cavorting, splashing in the pool remind me of their mother searching for crawdads and salamanders in the stream by the house.  A memory that brings the smile to my face.  It is about their memories and dreams now.  Mine are still focused on the past.

I remember the welcomed afternoon thunderstorms.  The smell of ozone heralding the cooling winds to come…a few minutes of chill until the sun returned…heat and humidity with it.  Storm clouds outlining the distant water tower in Waxhaw to the east, the western sun reflects off of the tower and makes the thunderheads seem ominous.

My grandmother’s admonishment, “Don’t stand in the draft you might get hit by lightning” or “Get away from the sink!  Lightning will fry you like fatback.”  Needless to say, nothing electrical was turned on especially the TV.  Lightning strikes were worrisome on her hilltop if the lightning rods on the hip roof of my grandmother’s house were to be believed.

Despite sitting in a low ‘holler’, the transformer down the river road from my house was hit a few times and I remember mini lightning flashes jumping between the telephone and the lights over the kitchen bar.  Probably shouldn’t answer the phone.

Ball jars filled with water and wrapped in newspaper to keep it cool.  It didn’t work.  Water was welcomed even warm.  There were times I would have sucked the water from a mud puddle if I could have found one.  Those transcontinental rows of corn that needed to be hoed or forty ‘leven thousand hay bales to toss and stack.  There is nothing much hotter than corn, hay, or cotton fields during July and August.

Inside the relative cool of a non-airconditioned kitchen, sweet Southern iced tea, or a glass of chilled buttermilk, helped to quench your thirst.  Drops of condensation succumbing to gravity on the side of an iced jelly glass…Sylvester the Cat staring back at me, a huge grin on his face.  He knew how much I enjoyed the tea and the peanut butter cookie that accompanied it.  

Late in the harvest season, a watermelon might be picked and put in a nearby stream to cool.  Maybe a ripe tomato or two.  Late afternoons we would crack open the bounty and fight off the horse flies as watermelon juice mixed with the sweat and dripped from our fingers and faces.

In this new timeline, I think about cracking open the Tanqueray and adding some tonic and lime.  What? We have no lime?  Wait! Ah, I found one.

I stare out of my French Doors wondering if I really want to leave the air conditioning to cut grass or pick beans…or do anything else…  How did I get so old?  I also know that the extra piece of watermelon I want to eat will add at least two trips to the bathroom during the night.

I once had an old man tell me the problem with getting old.  “Young man, you know what is bad about gettin’ old?”  I think I was fifty at the time.  In his overalls with a fedora pushed back on his head, he answered the question I had not asked, “There are no dreams left for old men.”

I thought I knew what he meant.  Dreams of love, or an unreasonable facsimile. Getting ahead in the world, earning triumphs and victories, winning another state championship, and overcoming the disappointments of being close but no cigar.

The old man was correct.  There are no pursuits of state championships any more but I would edit his comment.  “There are no young man’s dreams but there are dreams.”

Dreams of a different time when Peter Pan was still alive.  Dreams of summers without a care in the world…a time when I knew I never wanted to grow up…but yet I did.

Still, I shan’t be sad.  There will be good summers ahead as long as my sun continues to rise.  I won’t dream only of the past.  Even dreams must change with time.

***+

The image is of a summer sunset from Pixabay and found on The Old Farmer’s Almanac.

Don Miller’s author’s page may be found at https://www.amazon.com/Don-Miller/e/B018IT38GM?fbclid=IwAR3YwCXc-tSERSihnz93ceDKB3PzxGIYX3lVWrJx3-mYmPV89rNT4j7PvxA.

How Did We Survive?

 

My downstairs air conditioner is out…specifically the air handler.  I felt it when I came downstairs first thing this morning.  For some reason, air-conditioned air at seventy-one degrees feels different than non-air-conditioned air at the same temperature.  Am I crazy? Oh yes but not because of that last statement.  I knew immediately something was amiss.

I am anxiously awaiting my rescue from the remnants of the lingering summer.  It’s not too bad…yet.  We are well shaded but I’m expecting temps in the mid-nineties by week’s end…it could be bad by Friday if my problem hasn’t been rectified by then…it could be bad tonight as inside temperatures approach a balmy seventy-five.  I don’t sleep well above seventy-two…who am I kidding?  I don’t sleep well.

I should warn you; I sweat in Biblical proportions.  Noah’s forty days and nights look like a clearing off shower.

My predicament once again has me scurrying down a pig trail that leads to those thrilling days of yesteryear.  How did we survive in the days when air-conditioning was not the norm?

I know.  You get used to what you get used to and I have become acclimated to air-conditioned air.  There was a time….

I remember an unairconditioned school building.  We never called off school because of extreme temperatures, hot or cold…but I forget we were built of sterner stuff.  As first graders, we walked ten miles to and from school, uphill in both directions, wind, rain, snow or asteroid strike be damned.

A brick building with wide and high windows.  Ceilings twenty-five feet high if they were an inch, not really but twelve at least…may be.  Unscreened, high and wide windows, I  remember the panic caused by red wasps visiting our eighth-grade history class and trying to take notes around the droplets of perspiration dripping onto my notebook.

During those wonderful years of junior high school, one young lady decided shucking her underwear might help with heat transfer…in the middle of class.   Much in the same way my wife can change clothes using her tee-shirt as her dressing room, this girl squirmed out of her slip.  Our teacher, a somewhat flustered Mister Gunter cautioned us that we should reframe from removing foundation garments due to the heat.  Somehow, we survived with most of our clothing on.

Church Sundays were the same…except for the removing of our underwear.  Tall windows open to catch whatever breeze was available.  No screens and plenty of wasps visiting, dispensing their own version of hellfire and brimstone.

Handheld funeral fans causing us to sweat more with the effort needed to keep the hot and humid air moving.  Sweat soaked dress shirts ruined when the varnish on the pews stuck to them.  I survived even if my shirts didn’t.

At home, it was ceiling box fans and window fans, sitting on the front porch until the bedroom had cooled sufficiently enough for the sandman to visit…sleeping on the front porch when it was miserably hot.  Hmm…decisions, decisions.  Sweat yourself to sleep in the bedroom from Dante’s Inferno or risk getting sucked dry by mosquitos.  I believe I’ll just lay here with a window fan installed backwards in the window at the foot off my bed.  I actually slept that way…with my head at the foot of my bed with chicken wire covering the backside of the fan so I didn’t accidentally stick a body part in it.  Somehow, we did survive…body parts and all.

I know we spent our awake time outdoors.  No matter how hot it was outside, it was cooler than inside.  A lot of the time was spent in my grandmother’s garden, playing cowboys and Indians in and around the barn or recreating World War Two in the woods or on the clay bank behind my house.  For some reason, it didn’t seem as hot then.

It’s persimmon season despite the heat and I remember running barefoot under the persimmon tree in my grandmother’s backyard.  Rotting persimmons caking on the bottom of my feet, oozing between my toes, sticking to the brown, dusty, dry dirt.  Hearing, “You chaps clean your feet before you come into this house!”  Heading to the stream that ran through the pasture trying to pry the mud off our feet.  Getting distracted with the crawfish and minnows…forgetting it was time to do my chores.  “Go out there and pick me a keen hickory!  I’m gonna switch them legs.”  No physical marks remain and eventually my feet came clean.

When my bride and I first moved to our little piece of heaven in the foothills of the Blue Ridge, we had no air conditioning and were surprised at the low ceilings our little farmhouse had…until winter hit, and we understood.  It gets cold in them thar hills.  The original owners were required to feed five fireplaces to heat their home.  Low ceilings make for a warmer house.

In the summer we never ventured onto the second floor, it was just too hot.  For seven years we survived with the help of the hemlocks, poplars and black walnuts surrounding the house along with ceiling and window fans.   Late nights sitting on the front porch waiting for the bedroom to cool down.  Just talking and rocking or swinging, holding hands, the smell of a cigar mixing with the forest smells and citronella.  Good times.  Maybe we did more than survive.

My guess is we will survive this little blip on our radar.  Still, I hope it is a short little blip.

The image is of Robert Hays sweating it out as Ted Striker in Airplane! (1980)

Further musings may be found at https://www.amazon.com/Don-Miller/e/B018IT38GM