When it comes to sultry, eggs-on-the-street summer heat, folks tend to think of the torrid south, the arid west, or the artificial asphalt ovens of the east coast city-states. The Midwest is not on that list; we are the Great White North, Canada Junior, avoided and overlooked except in election years.
But that Midwestern summer heat has an edge to it that the others lack.
We see some of the greatest temperature variations anywhere, from -40 (on any scale you might use) to 100+ Fahrenheit, my preferred scale if only because the most blistering days are in excess of a century of degrees which makes them all the more sweat-misted. These forces, from freezing to broiling, mangle our roads into Pollocks of pavement and make weather prediction even more a casting of bones than ordinary. April might still see snow and June might usher in a roaring hundred-degree drought–or vice-versa.
I still remember a Middle School day in May, when it was 80 degrees in the morning and snowing by the final bell. Running home through the snow was my only option, since I was in shirtsleeves and shorts. I also remember lying out in my parents’ house under a fan, sticky from heat and unable to rouse myself. We had no air conditioning, like many, since the heat would only last a month or two at most. For the longest time I thought those long-ago dog days were named after the neighborhood mutts, laying on porches or in doghouses and panting away what heat they could.
There were few pools, since most weren’t worth the hassle of draining and covering after only a fortnight of use, so the kids would often go down to the river to cool off. Not by swimming–an old creosote plant upriver had all our parents forbidding us to dip so much as a toe–but by soaking in the cool air that collected in the hollow of the old drained lake, trapped by the overhanging trees and shady parks at either end. We used the riverwalk–before the term even existed in trendier circles–paved with woodchips and gravel.
Of course there were other remedies. Being boys, water balloons, hoses, and squirt guns often figured quite prominently. Whoever had the largest and most pressurized cannon was always at a major advantage…until the others ganged up on them, or until everyone became so soaked that further shots had no effect. Nearsighted, I was never a good shot, and never willing to escalate the battles. That meant forever losing to whoever was ruthless enough to deploy the hose first, or whoever resorted to dirty warfare by flinging unconventional projectiles like pinecones, lumps of sod, or even (once) dog poo.
When I sit, an adult, in my air conditioned cubicle, shivering as if in a meat locker, the lens through which those old dog days are perceived grows rosier. Such is the way of all things, though it is hard to walk those same paths today and not feel a twinge of regret or golden longing.
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