Dealing With Summer Heat
As a school boy in the 1950's, I usually could hardly wait for summer break.. There
was just so much we could do in the summer that we liked - so much
outdoor adventure and activity we could engage in and get better at.
But one of the problems we encountered in the summer was the weather,
so often insufferable.. It would often get hot, real hot. Day after
day of such heat that you couldn’t walk on a sidewalk with bare feet.
Day after day of heat rash where your shirt chaffed your sweaty neck,
days when it was so hot all you wanted to do was find some water to
get into, some shade to hang out in, something cold to drink.
And the nights! Going to bed just in your shorts, lying on the bare
sheets and leaving an outline on the sheets with your sweat. One
night in particular, in late spring when the humidity was higher
than normal, we just couldn’t get to sleep. I went and got Dad
and brought him into our bedroom and showed him the sweaty
outlines, and I could see we made an impression..
Within a couple of days, he came up with a solution we much
appreciated. He got a couple of old electric fans and enclosed them in plywood boxes with chicken wire across the front to keep little fingers out of the blades. With a fan blowing directly
on us, we were finally able to sleep well on hot nights.
In those days, even some stores didn’t have AC yet.
Outfitting For Summer
The first good sign of summer for us was when we received new straw
hats from our parents. Wide brimmed straw hats to shade your face
and neck when you were out in the sun. The second sure recognition
of summer’s arrival was going barefoot. New bare feet are oh so tender
and easily hurt, but it didn’t take but a couple of weeks and the bottoms
of your feet were like leather. When a kid can run on gravel, you know
he has tough feet !
Even so, there were still natural hazards to watch out for.
Oklahoma has a variety of stickery plants. “Goat heads” and “sand burrs”
were two plants from the devil himself, which could puncture the
hardiest soles. I wish I had a dollar for every time I would have to
stop, lean against something and pick stickers out of my feet.
A Refreshing Break
In one place we lived, there was a mulberry tree in our back yard, where
we could congregate on hot days and play in the cool red dirt with our
toy cars and trucks. A welcome sound on such a day would be a low
rumble towards the southwest, and we would interrupt our play to go
take a look. A bank of dark clouds in that direction meant, of course, the
real possibility of a thundershower coming up. When the clouds arrived
overhead and the first big splats of rain started, we knew enough to take
advantage. We would race into the house, get into our swim trunks, and
go outside to exult in the rain that could be coming down in buckets by
What fun it was to dance in the rain, chase one another around the
yard, wade in the puddles by the street - just go beserk for a while and
relish the cooler temperatures. But, of course, the respite was of brief duration.. After a half hour or so, the clouds would move on. By now we might
start to feel a little chilled, so a quick run through the bathtub cleaned us up and got us ready for the rest of the day, which probably meant steamy
A Turn For The Worse. Tornadoes
Starting in the spring, we had a more malevolent weather to deal with
than mere heat. The threat of tornadoes could persist clean into the fall.
Many small towns had an early warning system of sorts - a wailing fire
siren. I had a great fear of tornadoes, reinforced by being awakened
sometimes in the middle of the night, and our family stumbling over to the
neighbor’s storm cellar.
We’d sit down in the dank cellar, with an old radio for the weather reports,
and wait for whatever was coming. When the danger had passed, we would
go back to our house, but sleep after that unpleasant interlude was often
hard to come by. Fortunately, we never had a tornado come close to us,
but we did visit sites that were not so lucky.
One Saturday afternoon, my brother Paul and I were up the street mowing
a neighbor’s lawn. The southwest got dark and rumbly, but it did not
come all the way to us. When we returned to our house, about 5 PM,
Dad was working in the garage and listening to the radio report of massive
tornado damage southwest of us.
Nature Deals A Bad Hand
A couple of small towns in that direction had been hit, and some people
killed. The next day, after church, we drove over to see what had happened.
I have never been in a war, but that is what crossed my mind when I saw
what the tornado had done. For people who grow up in tornado prone areas,
what I saw is not unusual, but it was a fresh experience for us, not easily
A man and woman had been in a farmhouse as the tornado approached.
Thinking they would be hit for sure, they jumped into a farm truck and
tried to get away. The tornado caught them, picked them up and dropped
them into the middle of a field. We drove by and saw the truck sitting out
there. The people had been killed. I was amazed that something as heavy as a truck could be carried like that. But there was greater things to come.
On the edge of the first town was a family farm that was smack in the
path of the tornado. The farm house was shredded, with only the foundation
and floor remaining. Shattered wood was scattered everywhere. A large
equipment building nearby was gone, and a combine that had been parked
inside was carried about a quarter of a mile down the hill and dropped.
We could see just the top sticking out of the farmer’s pond.
Wooden electric poles bristled with straw driven into the wood.. Wire and cable
were lying about, all rolled and twisted up. The oddest thing to see was
some chickens that had survived. They were acting like chickens do,
ambling along and scratching the ground for something to eat, only they
were missing most of their feathers.
The Power Of Tornadoes
Just on the north side of the farmhouse plot was a large field of wheat,
ready for harvest. The tornado had traveled down the hill across the wheat and
and you could trace its exact path through the wheat. It had worked like a
combine, taking off the heads of wheat and about half the stalk. As the
tornado entered a creek bottom at the lower edge of the wheat, it cut a path through the trees lining the creek.
All in all, it was a sobering experience for our family.
Fun Weather (too rare)
Winter in Oklahoma could sometimes bring the pleasant surprise of a
little snow. I don’t ever remember very much at one time - maybe three
or four inches, but it was enough to give us a day off from school.
The winter spirit would infect our dad, who would break away from
work and take us sledding. We had one real sled, a red Western Flyer,
and one homemade sled we kids nailed together, with strips of metal
cut from cans nailed on the runners. The sleds would be tied to the
rear bumper of the ‘36 Plymouth and off we would go down the
We would take turns riding the sleds, and Dad learned to be careful
on the corners, else the sleds and their riders would swing wide
and end up in the bar ditch. It was all great fun, but the cold was
hard to bear on faces and wet mittens.
We would gather clean snow and Mother would make snow ice cream.
Condensed milk, sugar, some vanilla - these were the basic ingredients,
as I recall.
You had to eat it fast, because it would melt pretty quickly. For variety,
she might add some chocolate. It was all delicious.
Treats For Hot Weather
Our family had some friends out in the country. They ran a dairy farm and had kids our ages.
We would go out on a hot Friday evening for homemade ice cream. These were the old hand crank models. We'd get a bag of crushed ice and load it in around the metal cylinder holding the ice cream mix. My Dad would put wrap the maker with a gunny sack to help keep it cold and my brother and I would take turns cranking it until the ice cream got too stiff. Which meant it was ready to serve.
Sitting in front of the tv with a fresh bowl of homemade ice cream and a wedge of chocolate cake - eating the cool deliciousness and enjoying the wrestling spectacle - that was high living on a hot summer night.
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