Picture me with the back of my wrist pressed against my forehead, my high necked and severely starched Victorian collar fastened tightly about my throat with a carved cameo brooch. My dress has long sleeves with ruffles at the wrists, is cinched at the waist and the hem drags in the dust as I walk. Underneath, I am wearing a chemise and a whale bone corset that starts under my armpits and ends at the tip of my tailbone. I have on six layered crinolines and as I am about to run some errands and will be in the public eye, I have added a wide swinging hoop under my skirt. I have on woolen stockings and leather boots that lace up past my ankles. It is 98 degrees in the shade, and I am wearing a hat that ties under my chin, my gloves buttoned at the wrist.
The Summer of 1865. How did we women ever survive?
In deference to the men in the audience, scratchy one piece body hugging union suits, in the days before boxers or briefs, make me feel sweaty and not in a come-hither-oh-sweet-rose sort of way. There is definitely a certain smell that comes to mind, but it is not that of swarthy strapping men about to sweep me off my feet. It's more like the smell of my two boys after three hours of football practice in full pads or in the basement after six hours of video games and beef jerky. Ick.
My guess is that everyone, back in the old days, smelled so disgustingly awful, felt so incredibly sticky and icky, that instead of being inventive and creating a new line of fashion, or perhaps a military-grade anti-perspirant, some enterprising and unhelpful snob suggested a lilac scented hankie to sniff. Thanks ever so much.
Summer of 1865. Some of my ancestors must have survived, 'cause in the Summer of 1965, I was alive. Hot and sweaty and truth be told, a little stinky too.
Summer of 2013, ninety-eight degrees outside and I am sitting here in a tank top and shorts, sipping an extra large Diet Coke with lots and lots of ice, inside my air conditioned studio, gazing out the window and reminiscing. I was out today. I really was. Out in the soup, the humidity, braving the temperatures as I ran the fifty steps from the air cooled Subway Shop to my car. I got a little sweaty waiting for the a/c to kick in, and later I will go out and water my plants when it cools off a bit, say around midnight.
I admit it. I am a weenie. I melt in the heat. I become a puddle. I have evolved into a hot house flower and I am not proud of it. No, that's not true. What IS true is that as we age, we tolerate cold even less than the heat. Why do you think your grandparents or perhaps your PARENT'S house feels like an Indian sweat lodge in February? I actually enjoy the heat. I love to go outside in the summer to work in the garden. I love to get hot and sweaty and muddy and dirty. I like the feel of the sun on my bare shoulders and the grass in between my toes. But, it is a different era, and I am a different age, and too much sun means skin cancer, so eventually, I have to stop playing and hold the hose over my head until I am a sopping mess, and retreat indoors.
But...those were the days, my friends. Those were the days.
The Summer of '65.
The days of baby oil and iodine, rubbed into our young bodies stretched out on the deck of the local pool. Sunburned and sore and peeling. Back when air conditioning was a gift for the privileged. Most of us, at least in my sweaty neck of the woods, survived without it. Farmers farmed. Truckers trucked. Builders built. Pavers paved. In the heat of the sun. Commuters rode on buses and trains and in cars with the windows rolled down and the hot air swirling. Kids rode their bikes and children walked side by side.
How did we survive?
Like the Victorian ladies and gents, I think we survived because we just didn't know any better, and like the boys in my basement chawing on jerky, once we all got in the same boat, we all smelled pretty much the same. Perspiration, the sweat of one's brow, is the great leveler of pomposity and fancy hankie wavers.
The past, in retrospect, always seems easier. Comforting. The memories of the Summer of '65 are, like the temperatures of those long gone august days, warm to the touch.
We slept with the windows open, our bodies fidgeting on top of the sheets. In the worst of the wee hours of the hottest nights, we snuck out onto the back porch of our apartment and fought over who got to sleep in the hammock. Sleeping outside I felt safe, as I could turn my head and see my neighbors rocking on their porches, or hear their snoring sing across the sultry air.
During the day, we played hours of baseball and tag under the shade of the trees in the park. The tennis courts idled in the heat, so we dragged out our beat up racquets and banged balls into the net and at each other. Tennis, dodge-ball style. By noon, into our swim trunks and out on the grass making water balloons to lob at one another. We rarely stopped to eat as there is truth to the rumor, that sometimes it was just too hot to eat. But, for a quarter, we could saunter down the alley to the grocer, slide an icy eight ounce bottle of Coke out of the big red cooler and snap the cap with a church key. I can still taste it. That first chilled swallow.
At night, outdoor barbecues, and Little League games under the lights. Long slow walks, conversation and easy laughs. If you were good and if you were lucky, the pot of gold, at the end of the road.
Double decker chocolate fudge ripple atop a waffle cone. The bell tingling as the door swung open. The rows and rows of cardboard tubs under glass. Orange sherbet. Praline. Carmel Swirl. Vanilla. Chocolate. Strawberry. Chocolate Chip and more. The napkin wrapped around the cone and the slow meander toward home. Licking furiously, as the ice cream dripped down the side and onto already sticky fingers. Avoiding the cracks in the sidewalk, listening to cicadas chirp, heat lightning zig zagging across the sky overhead.
Finally, the best memory of all.
Tucking my hand into my father's hand, nudging up against my Mom and watching my older brothers poking each other up ahead.
The Summer of '65.
It was mighty mighty hot.
And so very good to be alive.