“By July, a damp Southern heat had settled down on the town like warm sweet syrup.” ― Marti Healy
Lawd, it is July early, just a few days past the Fourth, and it is already hotter than new asphalt laid down in August. It’s a still heat…nay it is stagnant. It hangs like a heavy curtain. I imagine being wrapped in a wet, wool blanket and forced to sit in a sauna. I just took a shower after an early morning fitness walk, and I don’t know why I took the time to dry off.
It is a silent heat. The birds aren’t singing or flying about. The only movement I detect is the swarm of mosquitoes chasing a swarm of gnats. I just mentioned three of the five most hated things about summer in the South. The other two? Stinging critters and the humidity.
According to the biology, sweat evaporation is necessary to keep the body cool. It ain’t working. I’m sweating gallons but the humidity is so high the perspiration drips from my nose and runs downhill into my shoes.
My mind wanders to a hot, midday August practice. Football in the South, gotta love it. The player was an industrial sized defensive lineman dragging himself through whatever hell I was having him do.
As I watched him huff and puff, I asked, “Are you okay?”
The young man didn’t even look up, “Coach, I’m okay, I’ve just dyin’ of heat castration.”
I knew better than ask but I did, “What exactly is heat castration.”
“Coach, when it’s so hot I’m sweating my balls off.”
It is as still as the inside of a coffin and I’m not moving fast enough to create a breeze. Southern authors might describe the heat as “sultry.” No, Elizabeth Taylor as Maggie the Cat was sultry. I’m sitting on the hot tin roof without her. (For those not old enough, Elizabeth Taylor starred in the movie “Cat on a Hot Tin Roof.” She is referred to as Maggie the Cat by her husband, portrayed by Paul Newman.)
I think our Southern summers are trying to kill us. I need to cut my grass. I walked out before checking the temperature on my phone’s weather app. After I got outside, I no longer needed to check it. “Lawd, I’m gonna burst into flames.”
I decided the grass could wait. After checking the daily forecasts, cutting might have to wait until October. The heat index, what hell feels like to the skin, is 105.
I have grown fat and soft. The heat didn’t bother me as it rippled the air over the corn, cotton, and hay fields of my youth causing heat mirages to form over the fields. Well…it bothered me, but I didn’t let it stop me…I wasn’t allowed to let it stop me. That is not the case now. It stops me dead in my tracks.
I live in the foothills of the Blue Ridge. It is cooler here than the rest of the state. I don’t know how people live in the midlands. Orangeburg is located just south of Columbia and just above hell. Living there must feel like living in the top of a double boiler.
Before you folk living in Texas, Arizona, and Death Valley, California, chime in, heat and humidity are relative to where you live. You live there, I live here and I’m sweating like a sporting lady sitting in the front row of a church.
As a young church goer, I remember sitting through summer sermons in our unairconditioned church. Tall windows open for wasp to fly in but are catching little of a nonexistent breeze. If there was a breeze it always seemed superheated as if from a blast furnace. On a particularly hot day, our stoic minister recorded what had to be the shortest sermon of all time. “If you think it is hot now, just wait. Mend your ways or suffer hellfire. Benediction please!”
Overdressed women with funeral home fans frantically trying to move the air. Overdressed men in suitcoats sitting stoically as perspiration pooled in their underwear. The women’s movements creating more heat than the heat they dissipated. My own perspiration causing my shirt to stick to the varnished pews.
Summer may be trying to kill us, but we wear our sweat stains like a badge of honor and produce creative and colorful ways to describe it. “Hotter than a blister bug in a pepper patch” and it’s close kin, “Hotter than a goat’s ass in a pepper patch.” “Hotter than the devil’s housecat,” and my all-time favorite, “Hotter than two rats screwing in a wool sock.”
One of my favorite quotes comes from Eugene Walter, “Summer in the deep South is not only a season, a climate, it’s a dimension. Floating in it, one must be either proud or submerged.” Proud to be submerged in what must be a vat of very warm molasses.
Still, without the summer there would be no scents of honeysuckle mixing with jasmine and gardenias. There would be no lightning bugs, no lonesome call of the whippoorwill, no blue tailed skink living on my back porch. There would be no watching dragonflies chase each other over the cooling waters of the local lake.
There would be no anticipation of rain from the tree frogs, their croaking rising with the late evening breeze and the distant display of heat lightning. If fortunate, the blessed cool after a thunderstorm and the smell of ozone in the air.
There would be no tomato sandwiches and corn on the cob roasting on a grill. There would be no smell of BBQ slow cooking in a smoker…well, you can slow cook pork in the winter too, but winter tomatoes are God awful.
Summer might be trying to kill us, but it gives us sustenance, not physically but emotionally. We are all proud survivors…until we are not and in the South the dead don’t quite stay dead. I wonder if the ghosts of our past sweat as much as we do.