It’s hot as blazes around here.
That’s what I told my buddy Charlie when he called from Boston.
Just imagine shoveling all the snow in the winter, he said. That will put it in perspective.
I don’t have to imagine shoveling snow in the winter, I said. I only have to remember living in a trailer in Georgia during the summer.
Dublin, Georgia. That was the hottest summer I ever spent. The summer between my 6th and 7th grade years. I had never lived anywhere so hot as Middle Georgia.Imagine if hell had levels. The further you fall, the more intense the flames. Dublin is middle hell.
My son-in-law who lives in temperate Bend, Oregon was complaining about the heat to me.
Oh, buddy, I said. You don’t know hot until you’ve lived in Georgia in a trailer with only one window air conditioner.
You don’t know hot until you have had to sit in a classroom in August in Georgia. A classroom that isn’t air conditioned. Can you imagine how difficult it was for those teachers to try and keep us awake in that heat after lunch?
The entire student body shuffled around in like Maggie Pollit in a heat-induced stupor.
Mrs. Van Landingham – the oldest teacher in the Muscogee County School System, older even than the stone Confederate statues around town – would fall asleep at her desk after lunch every day. I don’t remember her standing ever to write on the chalkboard, to hand out a test, or anything. She sat her bony self in that chair, cupped that delicate chin of hers in that pretty little palm and nodded off to sleep in the afternoon heat. I think Larry Stewart once climbed out the 2nd-story window of Columbus High while Mrs. Van Landingham was dozing.
Kids at Columbus High can’t do pranks like that anymore. They go to school in an air conditioned building. It looks like a prison, what with those windows all dark and locked down that way.
Sure they might be more alert after lunch than we ever were, but they’re not cooler than us. Not by a long shot.
Stories about Georgia heat are better leverage than walking both ways in the snow uphill. A person can always put on more clothes to stay warm, sturdier boots for trudging.
But by golly, there is only so much clothes a person can take off before somebody calls the po-leece.
Rosemary, Sarah (my gal pals) and I grew up in those hot boxes in Lake Forest.We slept in oversize t-shirts and panties. I didn’t own a pair of pajamas until I was an adult.
We’d take the sheet from the bed, run to the window air conditioner, wrap that sheet over our heads, get as cold as we could stand it and run back to the bed, where five minutes later we’d be drenched in sweat from the heat.
This was the Georgia form of running a marathon. We’d do this run, back and forth until we passed out from sheer exhaustion. Of course, we always woke in a puddle of sweat.
Really poor people didn’t have the window AC. They had what they called box fans. My mama slept with a fan on in her bedroom her entire adult life. She could not sleep without that fan running. During those last six months of her life, when we were doing all the care-taking of her, one of the bedtime rituals was situating the fan just so. The fan had to blow just right or Mama would be giving instructions on how to fix it the right way, down to the tiniest tilt.
I was a sophomore in high school the first time I lived in a house with central air conditioning.
I thought I had died and gone to heaven.
I took the bedspread from my twin bed, and spread it out across that floor vent and fell into the best sleep of my childhood.
I woke up feeling like the Queen of Sheba. (I have no idea who that is but my mama was always talking about her. She would say things like, “Well, you must think you are the Queen of Sheba.”)
The July I gave birth to twins was the hottest summer in Portland, Oregon in a decade. We didn’t have central air conditioning that summer, either. People in Portland act like the Queen of Sheba all the time. They eschew (there’s a big word for you) central AC as environmentally unnecessary. They eschew a lot of good things in Portland, like hamhocks and turnip greens and pork, as a general rule. They drink a lot of beer, smoke a lot of illegal pot, and smoke a lot in general, but they eschew eating meat, and claim to be vegans, and vagans and such.
That word eschew is such a great descriptor of Portlanders. They are the most legalistic, self-righteous bunch of non-church people I’ve ever met. They save all that attitude to snub those who don’t live healthily like them. Bend is full of displaced Portlanders.
My son-in-law hasn’t learned yet that evoking sympathy from me isn’t as easy at it might seem at first. I have a generous heart for the truly downtrodden. If you are homeless and have pissed your pants, I will strip you down and take your pants home to wash them. I will buy you clean pants to put on. If you are panhandling outside Wal-Mart, I will march your butt inside that superstore and buy you any item of food you want to eat. I will put new shoes on your feet. I will give you a ride home and give you my phone number for future cab service.
But don’t complain to me about how hot it is. Not unless you want to endure the stories my son-in-law had to endure the other day.
I could hear him rolling his eyes at me over the phone.
Karen Spears Zacharias is author of Mother of Rain. (Mercer Univ. Press).