I live in a farming community. Summer is jam-packed for all. This week seems to be the “Season of Fertilization.” Every farmer within sniffing distance of my nose is fertilizing their fields.
I had been out of town for nine whole days. I had access to a lovely backyard with tons of birds singing and playing. I even had several days when the temperatures were like Spring. It was a wonderful little retreat. But when I returned home to my rural county, P U, it stank!
The first town I entered in my county, the stink was so overpowering. I kept asking myself the million-dollar question, “What is that?!” I kid you not, it smelled like a cross between road kill and a busted sewer line. Both of which had been simmering in the 90+ degree weather all day. It literally made me gag a few times. Needless to say, I couldn’t get through that town fast enough.
Did I mention that I currently do not have a working AC in my car? So all my windows were down due to what is playing out to be a never-ending heatwave. Here I travel, windows down, a stinky wind blowing through my hair as the humidity makes me feel like a hot, damp sponge. I must have been a sight. By this time, I couldn’t have cared less about my appearance. I just wanted to get out of this smelly sogginess and get to my hometown.
The next town I had to travel through before my own had no smell. If it did, it was so much of an improvement over the last one that my nose gave it a pass. But when I hit my sweet little town, my nose hairs fainted. “What in the world is that smell?” were the only words that could make it through my brain. It was even more overpowering than the first round of stench. And this smell, I could not figure out anything to compare it to. I was praying for God to get me home by this time. Surely the smell would stay out in the fields and not invade my apartment. I was right. The horrid stench was gone as soon as I got closer to my home and away from the farming areas.
The next day, my daughter stopped by to return something she had borrowed. Somehow in our conversation, she mentioned that they had noticed a horrendous smell on their way home the day before. They had their Great Dane in the car, so they thought it might be him. They all laughed when they realized the poor dog wasn’t to blame. Apparently, someone told her the smell that is going around is that of the fertilizer that farmers have sprayed on their fields, which is made from chicken droppings and byproducts. And with that, the mystery of the awful smell was solved.
I immediately remembered a local news story a little while back about a commercial chicken farm being built in a neighboring county. They would be supplying chickens to the Tyson plant that is nearby. I remember the news story was about how the property owners near where the chicken farm was being built did not want the farm near their homes because of the, you guessed it, smell!
So this experience answered two questions I had previously. Whatever happened to that chicken farm people were protesting? Well, it obviously got built. And the second question, would it really smell all that bad? Unfortunately, I know the correct answer for that one too! P U.
The past month, Summertime has been showing off. We have had record-breaking heat. Although, with it being so hot, no one cares what the actual temperature is. We are more worried about the “Feels Like” temp!
As I sit typing this in front of my cool AC, the actual outdoor temperature at 2:52 p.m. is 99 degrees Fahrenheit, and the “Feels Like” temp is 111 F! Yes, it is July, and this is to be expected. But we began having temperatures like these very early this year, in May. All of June, except for a few days, was just hateful. It appears this is happening all across the country. Even Maine is seeing much hotter temps than usual.
I watch people on social media having summer vacations and wonder how they tolerate the heat. Can a vacation truly be enjoyed when it’s this hot? I don’t think so. But some people will tell you they love the heat. I’m sure this must be true, as God made such a variety of us. And after all, there are states known for their heat, and many people have chosen to live there year-round. Maybe I’m just a hothead, or perhaps I’m just old. But I simply cannot imagine.
The forecast for the remainder of our week is the same as today. I know I will be spending much more time indoors than usual. Will I get bored? You bet I will. I will reach the point of feeling overwhelming cabin fever and eventually decide to take my chances in the humidity just to get out for an errand or two. I will return home drenched in sweat, vowing never to go out again when it’s that hot.
I don’t remember ever worrying about it being too hot when I was a kid. We lived the first 18 years of my life without an air conditioner. Heck, I didn’t have one until after I was married and had a home of my own. I remember sitting in front of a box fan; nothing was more wonderful. My sister and I would sit in front of it after washing our hair and use it as a hair dryer. I remember getting dressed up for a date, and while I was waiting for my boyfriend to arrive, I would stand in front of the fan and try to dry myself off so he wouldn’t see me sweat. Ha, ha!
Could it truly be that the earth is hotter now than it was 50 years ago? Or are we just spoiled now by technology? Whatever the answer to that question is, I don’t want to try and figure it out unless I’m sitting in front of my nice, wonderful, energy-efficient window unit. The best money ever spent!
As I sat in front of my air conditioner this past summer, trying to fend off yet another series of “Heat Advisory” sessions, I started daydreaming quite a bit about what my summers were like as a kid.
Dealing with “feels like” temperatures over 100 degrees, I find myself asking, did we even feel heat as children? I do not remember summer ever being too hot for me to enjoy my day. Now, if it’s in the 90s or higher, my body feels as though it’s going to melt. Literally. I vaguely remember sweating as a kid.
But I remember how good it felt to run through a spraying garden hose on a beautiful summer’s day. I remember well how good cold ice cream tasted on a summer’s night. The taste of a chilled Coke in the thick glass bottle was like no other drink in the world. Walking into a store that actually had air conditioning and thinking “WOW”! And to this day, the sound of a simple box fan will put me right to sleep.
I remember well, sitting at the picnic table we had in our front yard, while Mama spread out newspapers so Daddy could slice up an ice-cold watermelon. We each had our own little saltshaker. It was such a treat!
I remember spending most of my summer days playing with my sister in either the cool dirt basement where Mama kept the many jars of home canned goodies, or in the thick woods that surrounded our home. Daddy would always have the woods cleared of weeds and especially poison oak or ivy, so our play time would be a joyous one. He even built us a playground one year beside his organic garden so he could keep an eye on us as he worked. Mama could also see us from her kitchen window as she washed dishes.
Probably my favorite summer memory would have to be when Daddy would take us to the public swimming pool. I can still remember the feel of the wet concrete under my bare feet as we walked through the front gate, and the sound that gate made closing. I knew instantly I was in for a day filled with pure joy and fun that only a child could understand. It didn’t matter that it was hot, or if I got sunburned. The smell of chlorine in the water, and the smell of Coppertone suntan lotion will forever be something I adore. In my mind, I can see Daddy sitting in his car, parked out front, waiting for us to come out when the pool was closing. I remember him asking if we had enjoyed our day and saying how he wished he could have spent the day in that cool water, too. This was the 1960s, when kids could be kids without fear of being abducted or harmed. What a blessing it was for every child at that swimming pool.
It wasn’t all fun and games during the Summer. There was work to be done as well. Helping Mama and Daddy in their sizeable gardens was of utmost importance. Daddy grew organically, and that meant he had to spend a lot of time in the garden. But he loved it and would reap a beautiful bounty. Mama home canned or froze all the vegetables and fruits she could, so it would stock us for the coming winter. Canning was a hot, messy, and exhausting job back then. Especially with no air conditioning in the house. We spent hours tending to the garden, picking the produce, and preparing it to either be canned or frozen. I look back now and realize how hard my parents worked. I wish now I would have strung more beans, shucked more corn, and shelled more peas. I didn’t look forward to the chore as a kid and can see now that I wasn’t much help. I feel bad for that because I sure enjoyed the fruits of Mama and Daddy’s labor!
Daddy always kept our large yard mowed neatly. Oh, to walk barefoot in that cool grass again would be Heavenly. Or to take a nature walk with Mama into the woods. We searched for berries and mushrooms. Mama would dig up a fern from the ones that grew wild on the side of the mountain. She would take it home and plant it in her favorite McCoy pot. Of course, with her green thumb, it grew big and lush.
Like with all good things, Summer would indeed end. But before it did, Mama would take me and my sister shopping for school clothes. We always caught the yearly going back to school sale at J. C. Penney’s. If Mama didn’t have the money to purchase what we needed that day, she would put all or some items on layaway. We would try on so many dresses that Mama would pick out. In the 60s, dresses would be the normal attire for an elementary school aged girl. I would get so excited about the new dresses. Having outgrown all the ones from last year, I couldn’t wait to see what new style Penney’s had for the new year.
Mama would pick out tights, anklets, and knee socks to match each dress she purchased. If we were really lucky, we would go shopping for new school shoes on the same day. I remember always begging for a new purse to match my school wardrobe. Usually, Mama would say no. But I would come home from school a few weeks later and she would surprise me with a new purse or two. My guess is, she caught them on mark down later. I was a blessed little girl.
By the time we went back to school, I think we were all ready for Summer to end and a new season to arrive. I loved school back then and couldn’t wait to ride the school bus again and to see my friends. Of course, by the next Spring, we would all be champing at the bit for another summer vacation. And we would do all our favorite things all over again.
What wonderful memories we made.
As a little girl in the 1960s and 70s, I would best describe my life as humble. My favorite television show back then was The Brady Bunch. I can accurately say that our family life was the exact opposite of the Brady family. I lived in a very rural setting for the first 11 years of my life. I could not imagine a big, modern brick home with an upstairs and wall to wall carpet. I had seen nothing close to that with my own eyes. Not to mention the beautiful modern clothes that the Brady sisters wore daily. I could only assume that the show was based on a fairy tale. Looking back, I think it was healthier for me to not know what I was missing and remain content in my world.
Being a mother of three daughters myself, I can understand how my mama must have felt when it came to the needs of her 2 little girls. She rarely had the money for anything brand new for us to wear. Usually, new clothes were bought once a year, at the beginning of the new school year. And yes, these outfits lasted the entire school year. That being said, many times did my mama buy a dress that was too long so it could grow with me. She would hem it and let it out and re-hem as needed. The same with pants. I did not mind the dresses being hemmed so much, but it was much more noticeable on the pants. I hated that and felt some embarrassment wearing them.
I remember one pair of new pants that I had in third grade. They were lime green, my favorite color, and stretch polyester. Very much in style at that time. They fit well and were extremely comfortable. One day after school, I boarded the school bus and when I sat down, I sat in someone’s used bubble gum. It horrified me. I tried and tried to remove the gum, but it was stuck to the weave of that polyester material like glue. That gum and polyester had become one! I remember telling my mama. Her reaction was that they are brand new pants and still must do me for the rest of the school year. Yes, that meant I had to wear them anyway. Gum spot and all. And I did. Many times, until I either outgrew them, or I wore them out. I admit, I felt embarrassed each time. I never forgot that gum was there. I did however learn a valuable lesson, to look before I sit down!
I guess some would think my mother was mean for making me wear those lime green pants with a gum stain, and I probably felt it was unfair every time I wore them. But now, after raising my own children, and struggling to clothe them, I am a lot more understanding of my mother’s choices.
I remember in the summer; new clothes were even more rare. It did not really matter if we wore clothes from the previous Summer, my sister and I spent 95% of our time playing at home on our spacious 11 acres. No one cared if our shorts were too short or too tight. Or that I was wearing my big sister’s hand-me-downs. But sometimes we just needed Summer clothes. I remember a couple Summers when the Salvation Army moved into a vacant warehouse downtown. They filled the immense space with racks and racks of clothes. There were hundreds of items.
Now my mother had a lot of pride. She did not mind wearing a hand-me-down, but she did not want anyone to know it was a hand-me-down. She would walk down the street where the warehouse was located and check out every customer in the store across the street, in the warehouse, walking down that street, to check if she saw anyone she knew. When she felt sure the coast was clear, she would say “Come on!” We knew to run as fast as we could up the ramp and through the doors of the warehouse.
I can still remember the smell of that Salvation Army warehouse. It was a mixture of mothballs, and a musty old house smell. It was dark because they did not have electricity for lights. It made it difficult to look through the racks of clothes. My mama always went into a smaller room where children’s clothes were piled up in bins. She was never interested in the hanging clothes. I assume they were all adult. Usually, she might find one item for either me or my sister. I remember vaguely a pair of shorts.
Shoes were a whole other problem growing up. And you guessed it, we would buy them with extra room in the toes so my feet could grow into them. I would stuff tissue paper in the toe until then. When I was in elementary school, there were several charities that would treat needy children to a new pair of shoes once a year. They chose me about 3 times for this. I felt embarrassed at first, but once I got those new shoes in my hands, it melted away.
I do not remember my Dad ever voicing an opinion on these charities or Mama’s thrifting. I wonder now if he was even aware. I can see where maybe he would not have been okay with it all. And my mama was superb at keeping things a secret. Not meaning any harm, but just to keep the boat steady. I can look back now, 50 years later, and see the many things that Mama did to make things “work”. The sacrifices she often made, just so me or my sister could have more of what she thought we deserved. Whether it was school clothes and Christmas gifts being put on layaway or ducking into the old Salvation Army thrift store.
Later in life, thrift stores became popular. My mama thoroughly enjoyed that. I took after her and have always loved thrift shopping. Not always so much for need anymore, but for the fun of it. Finding a huge bargain is fun! And now in 2020, you are just downright wasteful if you do not re-use items to avoid them being thrown into a dump somewhere. I think my mother would be in her element if she were alive today. Thanks for all the school clothes Mama.