If Hell had levels …

Taylor 2

 

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).

Karen Spears Zacharias

Author/Journalist/Educator. Gold Star Daughter.

10 Comments

Tim

about 6 years ago

"But by golly, there is only so much clothes a person can take off before somebody calls the po-leece." Pure gold, Karen. Here's my contribution about heat: You don't know heat until you're in a smallish 1965 station wagon, no air conditioner, packed in the way-back, car full of you (the youngest) and your parents and your brother and sisters and grandmother, driving across Death Valley in August. And all you have to look at through the rear window (because those station wagon way-back bench seats were reversed from the rest of the car) is the tiny travel trailer hitched onto the back of the car. Here's to making our kids and their spouses (still to come if at all in my kids' cases) roll their eyes with our stories, Tim

Reply

Karen Spears Zacharias

about 6 years ago

Tim: That is some hot you are talking about. I've driven through Death Valley in the summer with AC and found it so intolerable I told my riding partner that they had to legalize prostitution in Nevada, otherwise nobody would ever come. And I've ridden in that wayback seat of a station wagon before.

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Ann lamb

about 6 years ago

We used to go out the window of the home ec room in the basement. As soon as miss plumb called the roll we were in the bushes for the remainder of her class. I had miss van landingham. She once told me I was like the old woman who only knew one thing. How to test an egg, you put it on water and if it was good it would either sink or float but she did not know which.

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Karen Spears Zacharias

about 6 years ago

Ann Lamb! Why am I NOT surprised you had Miss Van Landingham? Didn't everybody in Columbus?

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Tony

about 6 years ago

"Like." We've had a relatively "mild" summer here in PCB. Not much rain, plenty of cloud lightning in the evenings, and lower than normal humidity. But the June grass is awful; it's like swimming in pea soup. So, you know, I don't. But yes, our central air went out last week, and we were lucky to still have a window unit in the garage. Moved into the living room, it struggled to cool the ground floor, and I swore I would buy a home warranty ASAP.

Reply

Karen Spears Zacharias

about 6 years ago

Oh, Tony, sorry to hear about the AC. Ours went out last summer and I called the man up that day and he come out and fixed us right up. I paid him extra for it, too. I am not one for sweltering in my old age. The change is about all the heat I can endure now.

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April Terry

about 6 years ago

Loved this! Next time I think about complaining, I will bite my tongue...

Reply

Karen Spears Zacharias

about 6 years ago

Oh, complaining allowed. Just be prepared for the stories that follow. :)

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john@PDX

about 6 years ago

Hey, I like pork. I smoke my shoulders without trimming. I like the fat on my steak. I like to fry my toast in bacon fat. I hate the tort system. I prefer a good martini over a beer. I live in Portland. But as a whole your pretty close on the rest of them. Makes me laugh when I catch them at Mcdonalds after listening to them tell me they never eat that crap.

Reply

Karen Spears Zacharias

about 6 years ago

John: We both agree that you are not the stereotypical Portlander. You are kind of a hybrid. Maybe you are in your heart a displaced Southerner.

Reply

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