When summer days are this hot for longer than a week, life can almost come to a dead stop. The heat taps every last bit of energy and ambition from your body. You don’t want to do anything, don’t want to go anywhere. All you want is to be cool. Ice cream or a cold drink helps a little, but not long enough. There was a time, however, when I didn’t mind the heat.
I think back to summer days in Connecticut, where my grandparents lived, and the muggy days in the Connecticut River Valley. We would spend six weeks with them while my dad worked the tobacco fields, on hot sticky days like this when crickets and cicadas would chirp their summer song in open fields of timothy and clover. The air was thick with moisture and you’d sweat buckets walking to the mailbox at the end of the driveway. There was a hammock under a huge white pine and I would lounge there with my granfather’s transistor radio. I’d listen to Red Sox baseball games, with Ken Coleman and Ned Martin broadcasting from Fenway Park, when teams played their games during the day. At night, we’d catch fireflies in the front yard, in glass canning jars. The cool of the basement was our bedroom, where we’d sleep on folding cots, or outdoors in the gazebo when it was hot inside. It was the late Sixties, in the country and the house set far enough back from the road ot to be noticed. The concerns of today didn’t exist then.
I never noticed the heat when I was a boy, not like I do today 40 years removed. I was brown-skinned and barefoot, my grandmother’s yard was my playground. On hot summer days, we would load the huge plastic rowboat into my grandfather’s pick-up truck, packed up my sisters, brother and cousins, and headed to MacLean’s Grove for the afternoon. The grove was a shaded picnic area that was run by the town. It was the best place to get cool because everything was shaded. Each table was under cover to keep off the rain. There was a snack bar where we’d buy penny candy, pretzel rods, and grape or strawberry soda in glass bottles.
And there was the stream, clear and clean, where we launched the boat and floated through the afternoon. The water wasn’t deep enough to swim, but we’d lay down in the water and let it rush over our bodies. There were some larger stones that we’d tap together under water. Our heads would tilt and lower one ear just below the surface to hear the clicking sound the stones made. How did two small stones make such a loud noise? My mother and grandmother would let their wooden folding chair on the bank, keeping a close eye on us. They could wade in the water up to their knees, but it came up to our waists. Sometimes we’d deliberately sank the boat by taking on too large of a crew, or pushing the sides down low enough to allow the water to rush into the boat. The difficulty came in trying to bail out the water. There would be a vain attempt to pull the boat to the shore, but it was too heavy. Buckets, Dixie cups, or our bare hands skimming out the water – our only methods that seemed to take forever.
This is how summer days should be spent. It could be a shady brook or a sprinkler in the yard, a municiple pool or ocean beach – anything to help you stay cool. And, remember, always wear sunscreen.