A recent morning was hot and steamy. My shirt grew damp as I did my two-mile walk. The guy who was trimming our neighbors’ hedges was mopping his sweaty face with a handkerchief.
“Summer’s here!” I said.
“You got that right!” he replied. “Summer IS here!”
Though it’s not quite summer yet, it’s starting to feel like it. Spring and fall are my favorite seasons. You can stay warm in winter if you insulate yourself. Summer is still too hot for me, but it was often downright hellish when I was growing up in Westville. No air-conditioning.
Here’s how we got by:
• Summer wear. As soon as school let out, my brother Pat and I would hightail it to Happy Youhas’s barber shop for $1 crew cuts. We looked like little prison escapees, but at least our scalps could breathe. Shorts and T-shirts replaced long pants and school shirts.
• Fans. We had a square box fan in our bedroom window, and a little oscillating fan in the living room. If you positioned yourself right where the oscillating fan began its about-face, you caught a couple of extra seconds of breeze. Still, on a muggy day in August, it felt like a horse was exhaling on you.
• Cooling off. To chill, we would climb trees. We would ride bicycles aimlessly. We would redeem pop bottles, and scrounge through Mom’s purses, to gather enough money to buy Popsicles or Orange Crushes at Vacketta’s Store. The cold pop stood on shelves inside the meat locker. Despite all that beef, pork and poultry, it felt like heaven in there.
• Outings. Our summer outings often were tied to avoiding heatstroke. A trip to the A & W, Mike’s Grill, the Custard Cup or the Cool Spot was a big deal. Dad liked convertibles, and it was a treat when he put the top down and took us for an evening spin. The Fischer, the Palace and the Times were air-conditioned. We also loved seeing movies at the drive-ins — the Dixie, the Skyway and the Illiana. Pat and I would wear pajamas.
• Porch sitting. Our Grandmother Cullen lived in Danville, and her house had a front porch that sat up high, with a low stuccoed wall in front. We’d sit there for hours, talking, counting cars and watching lightning bugs. I’d often sleep on the wooden porch floor, with a sheet and a piece of foam rubber. Anything was better than those oven-like bedrooms.
• Swimming. Nothing matched the chlorinated waters of the I & I Pool, with its sliding board, diving boards, pop, and tanned teenagers feeding the jukebox. Blue Pond, a strip mine hole near the sewage treatment plant, featured a Tarzan swing and a cold, spring-fed pond. It was so deep you could never touch bottom.
It’s funny … our house is nice and cool now, but I sometimes miss those days.