Saturday, August 6, 2011

Beating the Heat

My niece, Karri, cooling off in the lake
            It seems the weather forecasters are running out of adjectives for this summer’s heat.  Sultry, tropical, muggy, steamy, oppressive, record breaking, dangerous and even deadly have been used to describe what most of the US has experienced for the past month.  Regardless of the word du jour, all I know is that it has been very hot, very dry and I’ve been very uncomfortable.  It seems that each year that passes and each inch I add to my waist makes me less tolerant of heat.  I cannot even step outside to water the hanging baskets without soaking my shirt in sweat.
            It hasn’t always been like this for me.  As a child, I grew up in a home without air conditioning, and yet I don’t remember ever feeling overwhelmed by heat.  Perhaps it is just selective memory, but there is not a single instance in my youth in which I recall losing sleep or refusing to go outside because of high temperatures.  That is not to say we didn’t do things to beat the heat.
            As I’ve already stated, we did not have air conditioning.  What we did have was a large window fan that sat in my sisters’ bedroom window.  All the other windows would be opened and the fan turned on creating a natural air flow through the house.  In addition, a small, noisy oscillating fan sat on my dresser to cool my brother and me at night.  The white noise from that old fan was the lullaby that sang me to sleep each evening.  With the fan humming and slowly rotating back and forth on one side of me, and the summer breezes drifting in from my window on the opposite side, moving the curtains and causing the blinds to be sucked in and out of the screened window, it was some of the best sleeping I ever experienced in my life.
            I spent most of my summer playing outside.  In those days you spent the warm months shirtless and shoeless, and I was certainly no exception.  And I could always stir up a breeze by swinging, a pastime about which I’ve written in detail before, or riding my bike briskly up and down the street. 
Author ready for the pool
            Each summer I looked forward to playing in the small swimming pool that my parents would erect in the backyard.  It was nothing large, maybe only two feet deep with aluminum sides and a vinyl lining that was snapped to the edge with curved clips.  There was a circular patch in the back of the yard where grass no longer grew which Dad would cover with sand to protect the liner.  Then he would roll out the sides of the pool, and he and mom would position the liner.  That’s when the fun began as the hose was dragged back to the pool and the water turned on.  My sister and I were so anxious to swim that we hopped in the pool when the water was only ankle deep and icy cold.
            There is not much one can do in such a small pool, but that did not diminish our enjoyment.  I liked to spend much of my time underwater, circling the outside edge or perhaps pretending I was a frogman on a secret mission for the navy.  My sister was more content to sun herself on an air mattress.  However, the most popular thing to do when friends joined us was to create a whirlpool where everyone began moving in the same direction around the perimeter of the pool until the water followed suit and a current was created.  At that point, we had one of two options.  Sometimes we would plop down and float letting the water carry us along, and at other times, we would do an about face and begin walking “upstream” against the current until it switched directions.
            I can remember how my mom, with her usual neat and tidy disposition, kept a dishpan of water by the pool so we would first rinse our feet to remove the grass that would invariably stick to them after Dad mowed.  Still, blades of grass made their way into the pool along with leaves from the old elm tree that once shaded our backyard.  That’s when my mother would roll up her pant legs, grab an old piece of window screening and step into the pool to strain out all the debris and bugs.  And whenever we would start feeling the slick, slime layer that inevitably forms in a pool, Mom would bring out the jug of bleach and treat the water. 
In between dips in the water, we would crunch on ice cubes Mom had made from Kool-Aid, or if it were a special occasion she and I would churn homemade ice cream down in the basement.  Mom would freeze water in buckets and then she and I chip away with ice picks creating enough small chunks to toss into the ice cream freezer.
The sister pond to our swimming hole
            This was also the time we made our weekly visits to Raccoon Lake, and water was an escape from the heat there as well.  The gravel lane leading to the trailer court where we lived, wound through the woods and beside two ponds.  One of these ponds was left natural and was for fishing; however, the first pond was groomed by the camp owner into a swimming hole.  Vegetation had been cleared from its edges, sand brought in to create a narrow beach and a floating dock with a diving board was anchored in the deeper water.  Spring fed, the water was always cold regardless of how warm the weather.  However, even though it may have been spring fed, the water was not clear but rather a murky green. Upon stepping into the water, one’s feet would sink into the soft claylike ooze that was the natural lining of the pond.
 When first arriving, we would inspect the water’s edge for snakes, even though we were blessed to live in a region without poisonous forms.  Large, black bullfrog tadpoles lazed in the shallows but were always skittish and scurried away as we approached, as did the small adult frogs that would suddenly leap into the water ahead of us.  On the surface of the pond, water beetles would scurry in circular patterns while water striders glided across the surface, looking like spiders walking on water.  Those bugs did not bother us, but the deer flies that constantly dive-bombed us and bit us painfully on the shoulders did cause their fair share of consternation.  We would repeatedly dive underwater or splash a wall of water in their direction, but the flies were never to be deterred.
Water strider photo compliments of
            The camp owner had a pair of daughters who often joined us at the pond.  I had a boyhood crush on Susie, the younger of the two, and as young boys are known to do, I showed my affection by being a brat.  My usual goal when she was sun bathing on a raft was to slip underwater, quietly emerge behind her and uncork her air mattress.  She took this in good humor and occasionally did likewise to me, but alas I never won her affection.
Some of the sandstone ledges around the lake
            The lake held other water-related activities.  As we matured, we moved from swimming in the pond to swimming in the lake itself.  My father located an old tractor inner tube that could easily sit three or four people or allow a soul person to stretch out for a lazy float.  By that time, my sister was married and she, her husband and I would take turns attempting backflips off the edge of the tube.  We would also sometimes boat to the idle zone in north half of the lake where the shoreline changed from sloping ground to sandstone walls and ledges.  One ledge in particular jutted out over deep water, creating the perfect diving platform.  It was a little tiring diving off the ledge, swimming around to a low point and again climbing your way back up, but it was well worth the effort.
My sister, Sheila, diving from the ledge
            Time passed and I moved onto water skiing.  No one had ever successfully skied in my family, so it became the blind leading the blind when it was time for my parents to try to teach me.  One sunny summer day we set out to give it a try.  Dad would push the throttle forward and I would drag through the water until I managed a half standing position, only to have my feet shoot out in front of me, sending me crashing into the water.  This was repeated over and over again for well past an hour, and I never did surface long enough to call it a successful run.  I particularly remember one speed boat pulling what appeared to be a five year old skier making several passes during this ordeal.  The boat’s driver became so exasperated with my efforts that he pulled up to our boat and told my father we would like to give me a try.  He assured Dad he could get me up and skiing.  Perhaps if he had offered earlier he would have been successful, but I was too exhausted by that point.  I remember my father having to pull me into the boat and I could not even stand due to my over-taxed leg muscles.  However, when we tried again the following morning, I was successful and never looked back, eventually even learning to slalom.  My parents would take me out early in the morning when the lake was quiet and smooth as glass, and I would ski until I had worked up a good appetite.  There is no better way to prepare for breakfast on a hot summer morning.
The author out for an early morning water skiing trip
I think I was just having so much fun in those early days that I never took the time to feel the heat.  Today there is no pool in the yard, no lake in which to play, and it has been years since I strapped on skis.  Rather than swinging or biking, I find myself mowing, and trust me, I don’t move fast enough to stir a breeze with that.  Instead of looking for fun in the sun, I’m preoccupied with adult concerns such as how the lawn is turning brown and weeds are thriving in this hot dry weather.  And with the added insulation of many extra pounds, I frequently must have a fan on me even though my house is air-conditioned. Yet I know in just a few short months, I’ll be lamenting the cold and wishing it were warm again.  For now, I will just celebrate the fact that today, for the first time in three weeks, the temperature did not hit the 90’s.  Maybe I’ll go out and play in the sprinkler.


  1. Well air conditioning in houses here in England, in the 50s, was unheard of, and even now, it's far from being the norm. We just make good use of fans and open windows!
    It seems we are never happy with our weather, and you know the Brits predilection for talking about the weather... and queues in shops, public transport etc. Either we say it's been too hot too long, or the cold spell is dragging a bit and when will winter be over. However, I love the fact that it is so different. We have had two mini heat waves in the last two months, when the temperature has soared to 30 around here, stayed around that mark for a few days and then slowly lowered again. Then we have a couple of weeks of cooler weather, more seasonal temperatures, then a mini heatwave again, and if it would stay like this, I would be happy, since I am allergic to excessive heat. I don't remember it being this hot when I was growing up, or maybe it's only as one gets older that things like weather are noticeable?
    Loved reading this, and seeing the photos.

  2. Maggie, to put it in your units, we have had 22 days of temps from 32 to 37 combined with equally high humidity. In addition to that, we've had no rain (maybe 0.15 inches). It was the hottest and driest July ever reported here. It has certainly taken its toll on my plants and lawn.

  3. scott~ I always love reading your Blog. You take me back to some happier memories that sometimes get buried. i can remember well the excitement of the little swimming pool we had when i was little. we didnt have one at the house on audubon, but i loved the sprinkler just as much. When we moved to 19th, my folks did get a big above ground pool when we were in high school, but it was really more for my Dad's physical therapy. (although we too enjoyed). The only lake action I got was with my Grands in Texas. And they taught me to ski as well as sail.
    love your memories.
    ps...Happy Anniversary to you & Sarah♥