Long, Hot Summer
I woke up in the wee hours this morning to a house hot enough to simulate a trip to hell, with enough heat left over to bake cookies on the floor. It would appear that our AC has finally decided that it’s worked long enough, and it’s time for a well deserved retirement. Preferably today. I feel that my AC missed its calling. It should have definitely gone into politics, because although it talks a good talk, the only thing it’s really good at is heating things up and making them uncomfortable. Feel the burn? So does he. Well, that’s probably unfair. Who said the AC is a “he”? I really don’t know. It’s awkward to ask.
So as I went around at 3 AM, struggling to open windows that I wasn’t *actually* sure opened (turns out they do, thank goodness), I began to think. There was a time not so long ago when having AC was not a luxury I enjoyed. Of course, hardly anyone in my little Pennsylvania town, growing up, had it. I remember on Sunday the church windows being open wide– and the most gorgeous breeze blowing in from the green hills beyond. Sometimes, if the breeze was strong enough, it would turn the pages of your hymnal. It was magic.
I remember the sticky childhood summers– that particular kind of heaviness in the air that comes from rain that plays possum and refuses to come. I remember every fan in the house being turned on, trying desperately to cool us down. I remember glasses of Coke with big, watery drops racing down the side of the glass every time you touched it. I remember popcicles.
We used to fill up our little blue plastic pool– that pillar of childhood for kids everywhere– and play until it got too much grass in the water to enjoy it anymore. Even then my Mom cautioned, “Use the water to give the flowers a drink.” Nothing was wasted. The zucchini and melons in the garden thrived, while the pansies and green peas wilted in the summer heat. We raced across roads in our bare feet, wincing at the heat radiating from the pavement. The grass became crispy.
July passed into unbearable August, and it seemed that the universe was holding its collective breath– refusing to give even the tiniest hint of relief and a breeze. We sat outside on the porch swing, listening to the distant thunder which promised rain that never seemed to come. We would step out of the shower, don new clothes, and an hour later be damp from sweat. Nighttime was miserable, as our fans whirred and we thought up new ways to cool ourselves down tomorrow, the sheets sticking to our grubby legs and offering no relief from the relentless heat.
One summer it got so hot that our small community in Pennsylvania actually lost power. Few people had air conditioning back then, but apparently enough of them had it that somehow we overloaded the circuits and the entire town plunged into blackness. One minute we were sitting there in the living room, our fans running happily, and the next, all the power went out. I remember the eerie feeling of looking outside, at all the dark houses and dark windows. It was scary to me.
And then, as my eyes adjusted, I started to see the details. I saw the outlines of neighbors on their porches, fanning themselves with books and newspapers. I heard the quiet laughter of kids as they caught lightning bugs in the back yard and popped them into an old Peter Pan container. I heard ice clinking in the glasses as people brought out snacks. I heard the creaking of porch swings and the soft murmur of conversation. It was dark. It was hot. But we were very much alive.
I remember the richness of that night– of everyone being forced to the porches, like we had reverted back to the 1950s. We dug out lawn chairs and flashlights and actually conversed with our neighbors. Friends sat on the steps. We talked and laughed.
All too quickly, the power flicked back on. The crowd cheered, faces illuminated in the glow of one hundred bright windows. Slowly, we trickled back to our own homes– to watch Jeopardy and pop popcorn in our microwaves and sit in front of our fans.
And yet, as I sit here tonight, too hot to sleep, I feel that same stirring within me– that same whisper of the night– soft and gentle as an evening breeze– come out here on the porch. Come on out and visit with me. The evening is hot and sticky and muggy. The bugs have finally gone to sleep. I don’t have any friends or neighbors to join me at 3 AM, but it’s enough. The air is thick with the perfume of grass and green and earth. I am forced to focus on it, in lieu of other distractions. Has the air always been this fresh and perfumed and beautiful? Has the night always been so devastatingly lovely?
I finally go back to bed, drunk from the beauty of it all. Tomorrow it will be scorching hot, and I’ll despise the ‘ole air conditioner. But tonight . . . just for tonight . . . I see only beauty.
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