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.

Old Hardwood Floors

I never know what will trigger a memory. My memories seem to be attached to certain senses. A scent of perfume or the aroma of food. The clink of a stone against the iron blade of a hoe. Something silky to the touch…. Yesterday it was a splash of dropped coffee on our pecan floors. As I knelt to clean my mess I was transported to other hardwood floors and déjà vu moments.

When I first walked into to the original school building at Tamassee-Salem I had a déjà vu moment. The long hallway, with its darkly yellowed hardwood floor, led me back to my old home school circa 1961 or ‘62 when I transitioned to Indian Land Junior High School. It was an easy physical transition, just walk up a short flight of stairs from the elementary school. Both, along with the high school, were all contained in the same building.

I remember long, darkly yellowed hardwood floors and the tap, tap, tap sound my shoes made. The floor shined “tritely” with the gloss of the often-mentioned “fresh penny.” I might have shaken with the fear and apprehension I felt on the first day, both as a student and later as a teacher. There was an excitement and anticipation to go with the fear.

It was a beautiful hardwood floor…before receiving thousands of scuffs and marks from hundreds of children traveling to and fro, reminding me of me in 1962, new and not yet beaten down from memorizing multiplication tables, diagraming sentences and writing out research papers, or an older me in 2001 with a metaphorical new coat of lacquer to hide the scuff marks of my life as I began a new chapter.

There is something beautiful about old hardwood floors, especially the ones in my memory. My mother was almost anally paranoid about her floors, especially those in her small living room and dining room. “Make sure you take your shoes off and do not run in here!” I found out why you didn’t run on waxed hardwood floors, especially in a shoeless, socked feet state. There was a wild collision with a small table, feet, legs and arms flailing wildly as I attempted to avoid a fate worse than death. Time slowed as I watched the globe lamp displaced by my wild slide, teeter back and forth before laying over on its side. A valiant dive to catch the globe ended inches short, or a foot, again due to the inability of socked feet to gain purchase. I watched in slow motion horror as the beautifully painted globe exploded into hundreds of glass shards.

I learned several life lessons on this day, the greatest being you don’t get praised for valiant efforts, you get your behind “tanned”…especially since I was doing what I had been instructed not to do. “Son this is going to hurt me more than you.” Right. It hurt me badly but not as badly as the sorrow in my mother’s eyes as she cleaned up my mess.

The seasonal waxing, even though very few people had ventured into the living room since the last seasonal waxing, became my duty. At a certain, now forgotten age, my mother decided “idle hands (were) the devil’s workshop” and my hands were forced to apply Johnson’s Floor Wax and buff it out, all done by the sweat of my brow. Later I would have visions of a younger me on hands and knees as Daniel LaRusso in “The Karate Kid” was instructed, “Wax on, right hand. Wax off, left hand. Wax on, wax off.” Thank you Mr. Miyagi.

The smells of freshly lacquered floors are still prominent in the memory portion of my brain. There was a bitter, acrid smell to the oily sawdust used to dry mop the school floor. I can conger the sharp scent from the memories held in my mind. It’s not a bad odor, just the biting aroma of a time gone by.

None of the hardwood floors of my past exist any longer other than my memory. Carted off to some landfill to make room for progress. Replaced by bland, off-white tile with no scuffs or gouges to help tell their story or, as my Mother’s floors, replaced by a retirement village along with the building which surrounded them.

Happily, they exist every time I hear the tap, tap, tap of footfalls in the hallways of my mind.

Uniquely Southern, uniquely insightful, books by Don Miller can be bought or downloaded at http://goo.gl/lomuQf