Yesterday the mercury hit about 94 – the news lady complained about the heat, and the weatherman gave her the appropriate “what you talkin’ about Willis!” kinda look.
Last Summer we had stretches of over 105, for days at a time – that’s hot. When I was a kid we got up to 112 one week – the rice fields boil at that temperature, the air is like flaming grease, it sticks to you.
My grandparents didn’t have air conditioning – most people didn’t – but they had this old fan hooked up on the back porch. It looked like an airplane propeller, mounted on a post outside the window. We would line up like little airplanes and stand in front of it – our arms stretched out to catch that cool-ish air. One by one we’d jam to the front of the line, taking turns standing in front.
If Gramma wasn’t paying attention, we’d open the old refrigerator door, and stand there lollygagging for a minute. We knew we weren’t supposed to have a Pepsi without asking, but we could look.
Pat McCollup, the milk man, was like our ice cream man – sometimes we’d spot his truck coming down the levee road, and we’d be waiting for him at the end of the driveway, that used to freak him out a little bit. We lived too far from town to get home with ice cream, unmelted, milk, unspoiled, or even cottage cheese, which would mold the next day if you got it too warm, so my gramma ordered all her dairy products from Pat. He was like a rock star to us kids, we liked calling him “ just Pat.” He had Shasta Cola – remember Shasta Cola?
Of course we lived down the road from the Four Corners Store, run by Harrison Smitten. He always had ice cream bars and cold sodas too. The Sacramento Bee was delivered to the store, and Harrison had numbered boxes – ours was 54, I learned that number before I could read. We felt pretty big when we waddled into the store, passing the butts of every farmer around, to get Gramma’s paper, which was very important. My grandparents used to read in silence in their arm chairs while we kids sat in front of Gunsmoke.
When we got the paper, we’d have to agree on one treat to share among us, that was usually a candy bar, or maybe a big cold bottle of Pepsi.
You know, some families are Ford and Coke families, we were a Chevy and Pepsi family.
We’d walk home along the ditch bank, my sisters and I, sharing that Pepsi and taking turns carrying the paper. My gramma was usually standing on our bridge, watching us the entire way, but we still felt pretty big.
Big enough for a swim in the irrigation ditch that ran across our driveway. Gram would be posted in the living room or kitchen window. She didn’t like us out of her sight, especially in water. We’d swim in that moss and mud and come out smelling like the creatures from the Black Lagoon – we could smell ourselves at the dinner table, but nobody cared. Nothing cooled you off like a good dunking.
Sitting here now feeling the cool breeze from my windows, I think of the nights we spent trying to fall asleep in the heat, all piled into one bed, sleeping sideways in the bed to catch the breeze. My uncle, who had to get up early, was usually in charge of getting all us kids to bed. We’d hear my gramma washing pots and pans in the kitchen, sitting down to do her crossword puzzle and talk about who died lately with my gramps. If my mom was up for the weekend (she went to college in the city) they would tell her all the latest gossip. Uncle Boo would come in finally, offer to play us a game of “Mud Turtle” if we’d go to sleep. That meant, anybody who makes a noise is a “mud turtle”, and they’d get thonked on the back of the head with a big knuckle.
The next thing we’d know, we’d wake up to the sound of my gramma shuffling down the hallway on her bad foot to make a cup of coffee and finish her crossword puzzle. We were allowed to sleep as late as we wanted in Summertime, but we knew we better get up if we wanted to enjoy the sweet morning air. And that’s where I’ll leave you, as I get out to enjoy that sweet morning air!