Friday, July 22, 2011

We're Having a Heat Dome

Its called a heat dome now.  A heat wave with a domed presence that reaches far into the North and heads back down on each side.  It was winding its way oh so slowly east.  Yesterday the temps here hit 99 degrees.  We've talked about it for days, the ballooning temps and the heat index, something unheard of when I was a child, we just knew it was hot.  I think the weather people who have become national celebrities thanks to the Weather Channel, need something to talk about and saying triple digit heat indexes for as far North as the Dakotas is news. 

The humidity was down yesterday even with the heat.  It seemed more bearable than 80 degrees of high humidity, but it also meant that there was no moisture in the atmosphere and that meant no thunderstorms cropping up, slight as the chance of rain was with them, at least there was the chance.  Monday's storm managed to drop two inches of rain on Midland over to an inch in Saginaw and even a half inch just north of Hemlock.  We got a sprinkle, not even enough to wet down the dust that is coating everything now.  I continue to water garden, a couple of hours everyday.  If I did not the garden would look as sickly as does my lawn now which only six weeks ago was so green and watered by Nature so often, it was squishy when you walked across it.  It was also cold, and we feared summer would never get here.  I should have known so much better.  Everything comes in its time and it took just one scene replayed on the noon news, showing the blizzards of last winter, to make me once again appreciate long days, and blessed green, and temps that allow me to wear shorts and a tank top...though I'm probably getting too old for the tank.

I am trying to remember what heat waves were when I was a child.  That was long before air conditioning was standard in all but a few places.  We had hot weather then as 90+ degree days were not unheard of then, in fact, there were probably more and we didn't attach the heat index to make it more clear just how hot it was.  We knew how hot, "summer heat" was.  But it didn't seem to deter or derail our plans.  We still played outside, as we did every summer day.  School was out and our parents expected us to be outside.  We did early morning chores before it heated up and spent days reading under shade trees, playing board games under shade trees, and come evening, pick up games of baseball and touch football, and after dark, if our parents allowed, games of "Bloody Murder' and "Witch".  We would wade in the creek which by then in only a few places would be anything more than a dried, mud pit.  We would beg and cajole and somehow could usually talk one of our fathers into taking a carload or pick up truck bed full of kids to the St. Charles community pool to swim the afternoon away. 

Going for a ride out in the further country with the windows all down seemed blissful and if we were up to Grandma and Grandpa's cottage on Sand Lake we would hustle through the hot sand to just sit in the water and we would come out in the evening's wrinkled and so tired we would often fall asleep in our still damp, bathing suits.   No, hot summer days never seemed to phase us, even in August when the kitchen would be hot and damp with the canning season in full progress.  It would smell of dill and vinegar and sweet peaches and the tang of tomatoes.  Mothers, grandmas and aunts would sit in sweltering kitchens and fan themselves but look with pride at the bounty of summer standing on tables ready to head to root cellars and cool, dark places.

Spider webs formed magically everywhere and paper wasps became nuisances.  The dogs seemed content to rest under the porch or the cool cement floor of the big barn.  The haymow, so alluring during much of the rest of the year, was avoided as too hot and itchy, our only concession to the weather.  We thought of school starting at some point but never really longed for it.  We rode our bikes everywhere and had long conversations with friends in the shade of big maple trees.  Summer was a time of community and the living was slowed and savored.  We didn't have to hurry anywhere.  Hurrying was for the winter and the chill that made you move to keep from freezing.  It was for crisp fall days, running to catch a school bus.  It was for jumping mud puddles and the melting snow in spring's first elusive promise.  But summer was for just grabbing hold with arms outstretched, for laying on the lawn, looking at a star studded sky and marveling at how vast was the world and how magical.  Anything was possible then.

I wish I could still reach my arms wide and pull it all in, and remember what it was to be hot in the summers of my youth.  It was somehow better....I know that now.

Monday, July 18, 2011

What did we do before AC?

What did we all do before AC?  That shortened term for air conditioning, we all seem to have to have to survive these days.  Even with a cooler than usual start to the summer, which we felt entitled to rant about frequently, when a typical July heat spell erupts we are now complaining about having to turn on costly AC, but unwilling to go one more night with two fans running and finding little relief.  What did we do? 

We slept on screened in porches.  A family may have had one fan and it was used in the parents room if at all at night.  I remember being hot and restless as a kid but the days stretched on forever and the nights were star studded and short.  We slowed down even as kids and found the coolest and shadiest spots and did things that required little energy.  We were kids after all, and knew how to be lazy on long, hot summer days.

We went barefoot all summer long.  I had three pair of shoes to get me through the year.  A pair of tennis shoes and a pair of "good" shoes that the next year were converted to school shoes.  A long summer of virtually no shoes, always meant a painful August Sunday in church with shoes that hurt my feet so much I would kick them off as soon as we sat down.  Of course, now there are all kinds of "things" that kids can step on and contract from the ground so even in water, quite often some kind of footwear is worn.  That's kind of sad, just as so many things we thought normal in the "old days" are now taboo.  We miss something if we totally ignore the past, in favor of progess.  Things are constantly changing but there is something to be said for the way things were.  Some values need to be kept up generation to generation....

We attended a family reunion yesterday.  My grandparents had held a big Laurenz family Christmas Eve get together for as long as I could remember.  After Grandma passed away suddenly in March, 15 years ago now, those were discontinued until after Grandpa followed Grandma to heaven.  Then the aunts, uncles and my parents decided they wanted to continue the tradition and so a Saturday before Christmas was set aside for us to get together.  That evolved into going to the summer as some of the aunts and uncles felt it was easier to do this in the summer than in the winter.  And we progressed to the Hemlock Park for this gathering.  It took a few years for the date to become a good fit for most.  It is mostly for those of us who live close to make the trip but every year we pick up some of the younger generation who make it to see relatives that may not be around much longer.  For me, it is a chance to see cousins I will only see once a year and to catch up and promise to visit.  It is a chance to slow down and enjoy just visiting.  It is not long and involved, it just is.  It was hot this year under the pavilion, but there were trees and shade.  The kids ran and played and cooled off with buckets of ice soaked wash cloths, and the adults sat and talked and fanned themselves.  It is pretty much the way, reunions in Michigan have gone on for generations, and something I treasure more and more.

We came home and turned on the AC, it is what we do now and an agreement I made if the temps went over 92 and weren't a one day thing.  Likely, with more heat this week it will be on more than I want, but I hope I always realize there were times when we didn't know any better.....

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

When I was a Child

When I was a child, my favorite thing to do on summer days was lay in the grass and watch clouds float by.  Lazy summer clouds they were and I would imagine shapes out of those clouds and just drift.  My mind was as lazy as my body, but that was OK, it was summer, and summer was meant to be slowed and appreciated. 

When did we lose that?  When did I grow up and think if I had a day where I just sat in a hammock and watched the clouds, and it wasn't a vacation day that it was just wrong and I was not, somehow, contributing to society. When did that change? 

When I was a kid,  we had chores in summer, but nothing that took more than an hour on any given day, except for hoeing which could be as long as 3 hours, but was not an everyday or week experience.  We had time for pick up baseball games, and roaming our creek flats, swatting mosquitoes and playing Bloody Murder of an evening, until our parents called us home.  We played in the haymow even though it made us itchy and dirty, swinging from an old rope to a pile of straw on the floor.  We made rafts every summer to float down the creek.  For some reason, for some reason, heretofore not examined, the rafts never floated away once they were actually launched.  Of course, even though we started a raft every summer, we seldom got to the point of actually launching them.  Once my brother and I had learned the art of riding our two wheeled bikes, our country neighborhood was our oyster.  He had his pick of a couple of houses down the road with boys.  I had my next door neighbors, Betty and Marlene, sisters and I fell right smack dab between them in age.  We were seldom apart from then on until high school.  We remained friends but high school was where our future lives took ahold of us.  I seldom see Marlene or Betty any longer.  Jobs and lives took them away from here, though their parents still live close by.  It saddens me, but its not of my doing so as many would say, it is what it is.  The memories are good ones and that feeds my soul at times when life was so much simpler and uncomplicated. 

When I was a child we had a small grocery store a half mile away on what we called, "Nelson Corner".  It was where Nelson Road and Hemlock Road crossed and beside the store, there was a Methodist church across the road and our township hall, with a large stone monument on the front to the fallen servicemen of WWII  from the area, its one note of distinction.  Betty and Marlene's Uncle Reinhold's name was there, a source of pride and curiostiy for us.  But it was cool to have your name forever embedded in stone in front of a prominent building. 
The store, was a country store run by two of the sweetest people ever put on this earth.  Mr and Mrs Wilsey were gems and even then we knew how lucky we kids were for them to own the store.  The store had wood floors and floor to ceiling shelves on the side walls.  The center shelves were were an adults head high.  A cold water Coke machine was to your right when you walked in.  Having a soda pop for us was a treat and I can still remember how even on the hottest summer days, the bottles would be icy cold and so refreshing.  Next to the Coke machine was a freezer compartment that held ice cream and frozen treats.  Popsicles were a nickel and creamsicles and drumsticks were a dime.  Along that wall from the freezer to the back of the store where the counter was  were the candy shelves.  Penny candy and nickel candy bars, more candy than I ever saw even in the bigger grocery stores.  It was always my delight.  The counter in the back of the store was a large oak counter, sturdy through decades of use.  A large old cash register sat on the counter.  On the other end was the cold meats cooler, mostly luncheon meats, sliced to order and a cooler with milk and refrigerated dairy products.  The middle aisles were stacked with canned goods and non perishable foods.  Packaged cookies, Hostess cupcakes and twinkies, boxes of dry cereals, and bags of flour and sugar.  The other side wall held the "gift" area.  Virtually anything a person could need in the name of a small gift for child or adult could be found there.  Paper and pens, ceramic pieces and all manner of small toys.  Once when I was a teenager I helped Mrs Wilsey do New Year's inventory, in which everything had to be counted, every item in the store.  There were things on the top shelves of the gift area that had layers of dust, denoting they had gone years with no one knowing they were there.  It was a revelation to me, and one of my first aspirations as a child was to grow up and own a store just like Mr and Mrs. Wilsey.  The fact, that they lived just a doorway away, behind the store proper made it even more fun.  If no one was at the counter when we came in, you just yelled as the radio was generally going and they were in the kitchen in back.   Big fans on the ceiling circulated air in the summer months.  I remember the store most in the summer.  Seldom did a day go by that we did not find an errand to run for our mom's by bike down to the Store.  Even without an errand we often would congregate on the front porch beside the gas pumps, our bicycles flung down every which way and just talk.  We viewed our world from our children's perspective on that country store's front porch.  If I only had that place to go back to. 
Aside from endless summers, my favorite time at the store was Halloween.  We went trick or treating by car caravan as it was too far between neighbors to walk or ride bike at that time of year.  We usually went with the Gustaras, one year my mom driving, the next Marlene and Betty's .  We had grandparents houses to stop at and the neighborhood at large, but a definite stop was always at Wilsey's store.  On Halloween we were allowed to take one of every penny candy in the store.  It was a magnifiscent haul for kids who's treats consisted of alot of apples, popcorn balls and homemade cookies, all too often broken by the afore mentioned apples plopped on them.  To get real candy was rare for us, and we thought we had died and gone to heaven.  Oh for the feeling of unmitigated delight at a surprise so rare and so dependable today.  I guess part of it went with the innocence of being a child, but how I wish I could get that country store and those wonderful people, long gone, back for just an hour...
When I was a child, we had baby calves and kittens in the haymow.  The calves would have to be bucket fed and would lick you with big rough tongues.  Kittens would do the same except that their tongues were much smaller and tickled.  The Gustaras had baby chicks for a time and we cuddled and held them, loving their peeps and their soft down.  We played "Barbie dolls" under a weeping willow in their back yard, or in the grainery bins at my house.  We became adept at making doll furniture out of all kinds of things and it became furniture mostly through our imaginations. 
When I was a child, holidays were special.  Each one significant and a disruption to our daily lives that meant stupendous things were about to happen.  Halloween was planned for weeks, at least our costumes were.  Scrounged up and borrowed outfits, nothing store bought.  Thanksgiving was a celebration of family and lots of food and cousins all getting together.  Easter was baskets hidden away and finding them and never wanting to be the last one to find yours.  I saw my first fireworks on a Fourth of July when I was 11 from the back of a pick up truck loaded up with kids watching in a hay field behind the VFW, and no fireworks I have seen since have been more wondrous and magical.  Christmas was the ultimate holiday, as everyone was kind to everyone, children wanted to be good for Santa Claus to come, and there was JOY in the season.  My birthday came a week before Christmas so I always considered that a very special gift.  Whatever troubles there were in the world, and I know now, there were many, they seemed to be put aside for the Christmas season. 
When I was a child Memorial Day came on the 30th of May.  George Washington's birthday was February 22nd and Abraham Lincoln's was February 12th.  Their birthday's were saluted.  Valentines Day was celebrated with valentines bought at the drugstore and given to every child in the classroom.  When I was a child Labor Day was a day of picnics before school started up again the next day.  And when I was a child, the county fair was the end to our summer and the kick off to fall    When I was a child every season was a reason to have fun and make do with whatever the weather threw at us.
When I was a child life was simpler, at least that is what I like to believe.  We have so much more stimulation now and ways to educate even babies, but we do not take the time to just lay in the grass and stare up at the clouds and wonder.....

Sunday, July 3, 2011

Fireflies and Fireworks

When I started this blog, I had planned to write in it every day, or at the least every other day, or at the very least once a week.  I had also planned to make this a lighthearted piece of writing full of memories and sanguine observations of a mature lady.  But life somehow interfered and maybe that was never the great plan anyway, but things happened and I was anything but light of heart and  in fact, my heart was heavy, and I couldn't talk about it, so it was easier not to visit here.  I had many moments that I wanted to write, little things happening daily, bike ride moments when a thought would come crystal clear to me, or just doing something in the house or garden, but I wouldn't be near the keyboard and the moments would pass and the worries would creep back, and I couldn't put those into words here and nothing would be solved if I did, so I stayed away.

I have developed this love/hate relationship with holidays in recent years.  Holidays I loved as a kid have been just a time to get through and holidays I didn't especially care for have become even harder just go through and get to the other side.  But what's on the other side?   Anymore, routine isn't all that comfortable and I'm feeling I don't want to rush life by just to get back to normal, because normal isn't the same and life is change.  Confusing?   It is to me. 

But since the kids have gone and left behind Fourth of July's spent at ballparks for years, or at Mullet or Sand Lakes, this holiday seems to come down to sitting around the house, and perhaps finding a cookout to go to one day of a long weekend.  It has come to symbolize all I dislike about Holidays, everyone else seeming to find a place to go, and I am here.  Christmas has come to feel much the same way.  Expectations that seldom live up to what we hope, too short a time with family traveling home, and the Reason for the Season, slipping away, despite my best intentions.  Every holiday, I am envious of all those who seem to have some place to go and something to enjoy.  I have the almost at times, unbearable urge to just want to get in the car and drive.  How fast I have forgotten the traffic snarls that delayed Fourth of July returns from up North, with a car full of cranky children and crankier adults.  Maybe if I just skipped the cranky kids, I wouldn't be cranky.  I keep thinking I would like to give it a try.

But in the hardest of times which this seems to be, I find little nuggets of wonderful.  Nuggets of wonderful are worth celebrating.  If only I could hold onto that all of my days.  So, church on a Sunday of a holiday weekend.   While, a smaller non vacationing attendance, they were smiling and wishing us well.  We were enjoined to remember our military and the reasons our freedom was won and remains today.  It was a good thing to remember.  We did the mundane of grocery shopping after church, but ran into people we knew and realized once again, not everyone goes away and that there are many who simply can't.  Its a humbling thought. 

I'd like to say the day got better, and that it was a day of enlightenments but it wasn't , and as I sit here and write, its OK that it wasn't, because sometimes we learn more from the mistakes or the days that aren't quite right.  We had sunshine today and a good summer day.  In fact, nearly a perfect summer day here, and one that I will try to hold close come the cold of winter.  A long bike ride in the quiet and cool of sundown, showed me that people all around were doing un-holiday things like mow the lawn, and work in their gardens.  I wasn't alone, in fact, I wasn't even unique.  Comforting in a strange way, and a good way to kick me out of my pity party.

The day ended with a display of fireworks in Saginaw.  While I got more noise than actual color displays, the fireflies came out and gave me once again their magic.  No matter how long I live or how far I go, I hope the delight I take in the magic of fireflies will never leave me.  They flitted among the flowers as the sun sank and I am at peace once again.  And maybe, just maybe I can be all those things I thought I would be with this blog.