Mama's Place: Basking in the memories of hot summer days

·5 min read
Louise Finney
Louise Finney

The summer day was so hot: Nothing moved, not even the blistering hot air. Unnerved by the stillness, deafened by the screaming silence, we wanted to run to get away from the numbness of continuous, day-after-day dry heat.

The frogs didn't croak in the nearby pond; the cicadas had stopped chirruping; and the birds lacked the power of song, lingering huddled on dense, shady branches. Luckily for us, not a single snake slithered near as we rested on the meadow grass. All creatures great and small stilled in the oppressive heat.

The hay, raked and cured, lay in straight, narrow rows until Daddy's tractor pulled the faded-red baler down the rows. All morning long, he had guided the tractor down one row and up the other as the baler's fingers raked the hay off the ground into its chamber, where the plunger compressed the hay until it moved far enough to trip the knotter fingers. The fingers presented the twine to the knotter where it tied a knot. Bale after bale dropped to the parched ground, waiting to be picked up by a burly, sweaty, young man, stacked upon a flatbed wagon and hauled to the barn for storage.

Now for a brief refreshing respite, Daddy sat with us on the ground under the sweetgum tree, where gradual relief from the numbing, relentless heat crept through our bodies. Mercifully, the tiny sapling was left in the meadow fence and grew deep and tall, offering shade to farmers and their families, such as mine. Sitting together, the cooling effect of the shade calmed our spirits, bringing less need to run from our present reality of summer heat.

Growing up in rural Arkansas during the 1950s and '60s, farm families endured many long, hot, dry, dusty summers. I often relive this day in Mama's bottomland meadow. To give Daddy a little more time to rest in the shade during midday, Mother, Sister Patsy and I often took his lunch to the hayfield. Although Daddy enjoyed the meat, vegetables, homemade yeast rolls and blackberry cobbler, clearly the Mason jar of sweet iced tea took him away from the heat's paralyzing stillness for a brief retreat.

This summer, I've often flashed back to growing up on a dusty dirt road, without air-conditioning, swimming pools, cooling towels, neck fans, misting fans or icemakers. Drinking sweet iced tea invariably takes me back to those summer days. Although we had other escapes from long, hot days, we especially looked forward to refreshing cold tea, which undoubtedly tasted better in the goblets received with Griffin tea. Remember those heavy goblets with thumb impressions around the bottom and etched grapes and leaves around the top with gold rims? Of course pouring tea from a matching pitcher over a goblet of solid ice cubes frozen in a metal tray heightened our sense of escape. Now at Mama's place, the refrigerator has no ice maker, so I use cubes frozen in a tray and am amazed at how much longer these cubes last.

Spending time with cousins in Aunt Emma's cellar was another great escape from the torrid heat. Not only was it much cooler underground, we also enjoyed her homemade pickles, stored there on shelves with other glass jars of delectable canned food. Aunt Emma and Uncle John even had a swamp cooler, which used a fan to recirculate the room's air across a cool, wet pad and then expel the dampened air into the room.

Aunt Mary and Uncle Charlie's front porch, elevated on a hill along the dirt road between Mama's house and my family's new house, was shaded by gigantic oaks, contributing to a gentle Southern breeze throughout the hot days. Children of all shapes and sizes gathered on the porch to eat homemade ice cream and cold watermelon, and watch the men repair farm equipment in the shade of the towering trees.

One summer, a young grandson visited, and Uncle Charlie later reported that his mechanical repairs were sorely disrupted as he searched for tools and parts the lad had toted off. Aunts Emma and Mary were Mama's sisters. Uncles John and Charlie were brothers. Needless to say, innumerable double cousins shared cellar and porch with Patsy and me while visiting their grandparents. Luckily, Sister and I were always welcomed, ready to entertain younger children or lead a pack of older ones on adventures, about which we marvel uproariously today, though at the time, mentioned only in hushed whispers to each other.

As we insulate ourselves inside air-conditioned walls, today we forget that farmers still work in stifling heat to provide daily essentials for people everywhere. I like to believe that as farmers, my parents, grandparents and great-aunts and -uncles contributed vitally during some of our nation's most difficult times. Through heat warnings, droughts, dust storms, floods, economic depressions, market crashes, threatening foreclosure, physical and mental illness, and tragic early death of a spouse, these steadfast patriots plowed on. I am humbled to have inherited some of this hallowed ground on which my father and maternal grandmother toiled.

Now as I return in reverie to Mama's bottomland hayfield, I bask in the many fond memories of happy days, when finding simple pleasures with family and friends transported my awareness away from the heat. Shall we all remember such simple pleasures and forget the heat? Think I'll take a farmer a big goblet of sweet iced tea and say, "Thank you and God bless."

This article originally appeared on Fort Smith Times Record: Mama's Place: Basking in the memories of hot summer days