It's funny how when we were young the heat didn't seem to be a big issue. Behind our house was a narrow tar-and-chip street, more like an alley, really, and when it would get this hot the asphalt would seem to melt, and send up bubbles of tar. My brothers and sisters and I would pop the bubbles with our shoes for fun. Mom would get so mad because of course it made a mess of our play shoes. I guess it's a good thing they were play shoes because new shoes were a rare commodity and good shoes were treated with care.
I remember one summer, the temperatures were regularly over 100. The tar bubbled up as usual and we thought it would be fun to pop them when we were barefoot. NOT a good idea. We got burned pretty good; the tar pretty much cooked the skin right off and left raw places. Poor Mom. She was probably pregnant as she usually seemed to be in my childhood, and having to deal with tar-footed children was surely not something she needed or wanted to do.
Temperatures went over 100 almost every summer in my childhood. Northern Virginia's climate in summer is not ideal; often the humidity was unbearable and the heat would rise in shimmers from the ground. Although I am at roughly the same latitude where I live now, our weather is more temperate, with less humidity and rarely does it go above 90-95 degrees--although it does happen and this summer is on track to be one of the hottest on record.
|The big old house where I grew up. It sure suffered a lot when we lived there. The girls' bedroom was the top right window.|
We never went to a pool when I was young. Swimming was something that only happened during the annual pilgrimage to "the beach." It wasn't a real ocean beach, but a park on the Potomac River, a few miles from its convergence with Chesapeake Bay. The water was salty though, and there were often jellyfish when we went, usually July or early August. We were watchful of them, but even so someone almost always got stung. But those were glorious days or sun and sand and shells...and sunburn. Back then no one had even heard of sunscreen as far as I know. I got so badly burned one time I had blisters on my back and the doctor had to come to the house to see me. After that we wore t-shirts when we went to the beach and wore them all day.
|This was taken after I was married and gone, probably about 1970. Some of my younger siblings in the water--Julie in the life vest, which I am sure was put on at Mom's insistence.|
We had ways of staying cool at home, even without air conditioning. There was the water hose and squirt pistols and a big galvanized tub we'd fill and use for a splash pool. We had to be careful about how much water we used because it was city water and there was a bill to be paid. Sometimes we'd take a cool bath in the middle of the day and just lie down in our rooms with the curtains drawn and the fans on. The old house had high ceilings and it was quite close to the neighboring homes so it stayed fairly dark and cool most of the day.
One thing we often did was to make mint tea. We'd pick some spearmint from the herb garden, smash it with a wood pestle in the bottom of a glass with a little water, then strain it off and add sugar, water and ice, along with a fresh mint sprig. It was delicious and cooling, a special treat. We also made popsicles in ice cube trays, using Kool-aid for the mix and sticks we saved from year to year. Of course, if we made popsicles then there would be less ice--but there was never enough ice in the summer. Kool-Aid was a constant presence in our old fridge, the white ball pitcher often full of bright red sweetness.
|Summertime! Shorts and peddle pushers and me, for some reason, in a dress.|
When the sun finally began its descent, the yard would cool down enough to go back out to play, or to sit on the front porch swing and talk. Fireflies by the hundreds would begin flashing and we'd grab jars and try to catch them to make a nightlight for our bedroom. At bedtime, we'd move our beds so we could lay our pillows on the windowsills and catch the cool evening breezes as we slept.
Copyright Susanna Holstein. All rights reserved. No Republication or Redistribution Allowed without attribution to Susanna Holstein.