Back when I was young my family owned a Dutch Colonial house, modest in size, two stories, with a basement and small yard. Trees shaded the back of our house and one of the side yards, and a row of lilac bushes formed the boundary between the opposite yard and our neighbor’s driveway, until a new neighbor cut them all down.
‘Oh, I didn’t know they were on your property. Sorry.’
Yeah, right, stupid jerk.
Oh, before we go any future, I should warn you that at the present time I am very cranky.
My father was self-employed, and my mother tended the house and the kids. There were four of us, three girls and one boy; I was the youngest. We weren’t poor but not quite middle-class either. Somewhere near the bottom of the pile. Pasta and Jello formed many of our suppers (Yup, I’m from Medford, or Medfah, as we called it; we didn’t have dinnah–we had suppah.)
My father worked hard to keep a roof over our heads and food in our bellies. He and my mother provided ample love and guidance, until a stroke claimed him when I was 12. But this post isn’t about him dying, this post is about the summers when I was young–and heat.
All the bedrooms were on the second floor. My sisters and I slept in a bedroom facing the backyard, my brother had his own room, about the size of a closet, and my parents had a room facing the front of the house. We were all happy until the dark years arrived (There I go again…. sorry.)
Please understand my memories are good ones, for the most part.
Now comes the big question: What did we do during the summers when the outside temperatures soared into the 90’s?
We didn’t have air conditioning, just two box fans, strategically placed in a couple of windows to draw out the hot air. I would reverse the stream and stand in front of the fan in the dining room window until my mother came running in, scolding me, (yes scolding, not yelling or swatting, just scolding) that I was bringing the hot air into the house.
At night my father would set up a tall standing fan so that it blew up the stairs. Needless to say, our house always sounded like an airplane hangar.
Were summers cooler back in the fifties and sixties or are my memories selective? I don’t remember it but the second floor must have been as hot as Hades, yet here I am today, unable to stand the heat, and I have three window air conditioners and eight fans and my house is only 500 square feet!
Yup, still living in an airplane hangar.
Some days my mother would bring my siblings and me, along with a cooler, towels, and other beach necessities, and we would ride public transportation to Revere Beach. Again, my memories are failing me. The adult me knows it would have taken one bus, and two subway trains to get us to the beach but when I look back it seems we magically appeared on the boulevard.
On Sundays our dad would come with us to the beach, and we would dig for clams.
You should know that digging for clams takes talent and skill. You can’t use a shovel or trowel because if you hit the clam, you’ll crush its shell and then it’s of no use to anybody, not even another clam. The only tool you need are your fingers. Only amateurs use shovels.
Seriously, pros use their fingers.
Here’s how one goes about digging for a clam:
Kneel in shallow water with a plastic bucket by your side. The bucket should be blue or pink. When the wave recedes look for air bubbles on the surface of wet sand and dig like crazy. Clams are fast so you had to be quick. If you scraped half your fingernails and skin off in the digging process, so be it. No glory without pain.
Once you caught the clam you tossed it in your bucket and waited for the next wave.
Good times. Digging for clams under the sweltering sun.
Again, let me emphasize that I don’t remember it being all that hot.
I remember the rides home being sandy and sweaty but joyous. Suppah was a delicious meal with margarine dripping from the chewy necks of the clams; steaming corn on the cob drenched in margarine; and Jello for dessert.
After watching the black and white television in our family room bedtime would come. When my sisters came to their beds, and my brother was in his, my parents would sit outside in a little house that my father had built. It actually was a little house, so we named it the Little House.
Oftentimes neighbors would come over and join them and us kids would sit by the bedroom window and listen to the adults. The soft murmur of their voices, the clinking of the ice in their glasses, the glow of their cigarettes was a lullaby I’ll never forget. Every now and then someone would say something that must have been funny because the voices would rise in a collective laugh.
Again, I must ask: It must have been hot, right? What did we do to endure the heat or is it hotter now, in 2022, then it was back in the late 1950s?
On a few occasions we would pile into the family car and head to the drive-in theater. I remember seeing Sleeping Beauty at the drive-in. Let’s see, it came out in January of 1959. We would have seen it the following summer, making me almost five years old.
I recall that night as if it happened last night, but I don’t recall the summers being hot.
It may be an adult thing. Maybe my parents felt the heat more than my siblings and I did because we were kids, and they were…well…old.
Now I’m old and let me tell you I’m ready to run into the river while screaming at the top of my lungs. And not because of joy.
The heat wave of this past week has been brutal. Hot, humid, sultry, sweaty, stifling, and damn steamy. But when I’m sitting outside (because I can’t stand being cooped-up in the airplane hangar I call home) I can hear the kids down the street playing. Their shouts of joy stir the air and I sigh with relief as a cooling breeze travels to my backyard and plays among my wilting flowers.
And I smile despite the sweat dripping from my upper lip.
Perhaps it is a kid thing.
Hot temperatures roll off a child’s back like the water in my river rolling off my ducks’ backs.
And that’s exactly how it should be because hot summer days were made for kids.
Blessed be :}
Mi manchi, mia amata immortale.