June 22, 2009

Fear No More the Heat of the Sun

Forty-four years ago, I was headed with my two quarters and my nose plugs for Lancaster’s Pool a block away from home. (This 8-year-old in the old-fashioned swimming suit and bathing cap is just ripe for being picked on by other kids, but that’s a whole ‘nother story. I would probably beat her up myself just for the way she looks in that get-up. Of course, other bloggers may pick on me for using the phrase "get-up." Once a nerd, always a nerd.)

But the point of this story is that in 1964 our little yellow house had no air conditioning, nor did our Chevy station wagon. For that matter I went to K-8 in a building with no air conditioning, and certainly our little country church had none.

For the many children in that neighborhood, going to the pool was a frequent and pleasant time. Outside of swimming, how in the world did we survive without air conditioning? We had fans --loud, whirring, banging, irritating -- electric fans. My parents had a table-top metal cage fan with blades sharper than any kitchen knife. I suspect this cooling apparatus was unsafe at any speed. I’m lucky I didn’t lose a finger or two. But that fan kept the air flowing in our tiny ranch house.

Children spent more time outside than they do today. My stay-at-home mother generally shoed us out of the house in the summer as soon as breakfast and Captain Kangaroo or Engineer John finished on our Dumont black and white pedestal television.

Until I was about nine, my maternal grandparents had a summer cottage at Lake Wawasee. I loved going there. The brown, wooden cabin has long since been torn down and the area where it once stood – between the channel and the lake – is rich with condos and luxury homes. The cottage was far from luxurious with its metal bunk beds, wooden Adirondack chairs, and ill-fitting screen doors.

I will argue with northerners about this to my dying day -- the humidity in southern Indiana is far worse than what I experienced as a child in northern Indiana. There were also just fewer 100 degree days growing up. Evenings at Wawasee were often cool and pleasant. In the style of the American middle class, my parents dressed us like East German refugees from the Cold War on those cool nights.

My grandfather (“Grampy” is what we called him) loved to fish for blue gill and my grandmother cleaned and fried them for dinner, rather “supper” as we called it. I couldn’t fish with my grandfather because I refused to bait my own hook, and if you didn’t bait your own hook, Grandpa would not allow you to fish. (Worms – icky.) You could be in the fishing boat, but not hold a fishing rod. I didn’t clean fish either, but I was allowed to share in the feast of blue gill. Fried blue gill has a distinct taste like no other fish – my memory is probably enhanced with the faint, damp rememberance of the cottage, wet bathing suits, and fishing gear.

Grampy also had a shiny, red speed boat and I adored going out onto the lake with him. My favorite time was taking the boat to the other side of the lake for fuel. You didn’t even have to get out of the boat to fill your tank, a throwback to the Texaco Star days when men in white uniforms ran out to service your car.

Today The Weather Channel has been running special crawls and showcasing a huge red map with half the country in a dangerous heat wave. Our local heat index is 105 degrees. We haven’t opened our Poor White Trash-brand above ground pool in two summers since Son and friends are too busy, and the maintenance and expense are too much for adults who have about 20 minutes a day of free time. I don’t regret closing it, because Son and friends enjoyed it for years and have their own special summer “cooling off” memories. So we stay locked up with our laptops until the heat wave passes.

But on a hot day like today I think how nice it was to sit at Grampy’s side in the red speed boat, racing across the lake. Quoth the raven.