After the gawdawful winter we just had I said I would never complain about the temperature, regardless of how hot it gets. And I’m not, but I have been thinking back to my childhood summers.
Hubby and I went for a ride at dusk last night in Tootie with her top down, and the evening sounds and muggy air I was feeling transported me right back to our little house in the country by the ditch. We lived in a valley and there was always a breeze, but when the dog days of summer hit with a vengeance, there was no escape. We would sit outside past dark, watching the fireflies, trying to fiend off the mosquitoes, catching an occasional breeze, anything to cool off. The house was hotter inside than it was outdoors, despite a noisy box fan that did little more than move around hot air. We would sit in metal lawn chairs with an icy drink in our hands, often watching the headlights from a train on the tracks far away, listening to it's whistle as it wound around the bends in the fields. A car or two would pass, but country people were courteous, they would slow down so that they wouldn’t blow dust in our yard, and we finally would go inside and sleep in beds pushed next to windows, just trying to get a little relief.
People say you get “used to it.” Well that’s just not true. Hot is hot, and sweltering summer days were just endured and I never got used to them. I remember mother dreading the summers when the farmers surrounded us by corn, there was no relief because the corn blocked the breeze. But when we had soybeans in the fields around us, it was a good year. Was life ever really that hard? Was it?
A couple of weeks ago, our AC was low of freon and not cooling the house. Oh my, it was so uncomfortable and it was only for a short while until the repairman could come and fix it. But as a child, we endured months of hot weather. Mother would always cook despite the heat, she would pick vegetables from the garden and can them in a kitchen so hot you could barely breathe. The big vats of tomatoes would simmer on the stove, and you can only imagine how much heat that generated. There was no choice, we lived off the land and the food had to be canned when it ripened. She would pick the vegetables in the morning, then work at the drugstore all day, come home and can in the evening. Today’s women thankfully don’t have a clue about that kind of hard work, but in those days you did what you had to do, you had no choice. She was a remarkable woman, my mother. She always provided for us and seldom complained about it, she worked so hard and I admire her for that.
Even washing the Ball canning jars was an ordeal. As a small girl, we didn’t have a pump in the kitchen, only a well on the back porch where we drew water with a bucket. I can’t begin to tell you how many times I have dropped the bucket in the well while attempting to draw water, and mother would have to get grappling hooks and fish the bucket out by it’s handle. Then she would have to heat water on the stove to wash the jars, drying them with her snowy white dishtowels made from flour sacks that smelled like sunshine from drying on the line.
We were estatic when we finally got a pump in the kitchen, and I’m not talking an electric pump and a faucet. Oh no, we got a pump with a handle, and we would pump water from the well into a large white enamel bucket with a red rim and a wire bail handle and drink with the long handled galvanized “dipper” that hooked over the edge of the bucket. We didn’t even have a spring fed well, our water came from a cistern, the water ran off the roof into the gutters which fed into the well. There was a charcoal filter to “purify” it, but the water had to be so bacteria ridden. We never got sick, our bodies were used to it.
We did have a deep well about a half mile away at the Illinois State Experiment Farm. We would often take gallon jugs and fill them to drink, the water was much purer from that well than from our cistern.
Hubby was appalled when he married me, he would never let mother drink the well water after that and he promptly installed running water for her. It all sounds so primitive, but it was all we had, it was all I knew, and it wasn’t uncommon. Country people lived that way, no amenities, just the bare basics.
So I’m not complaining, even though the humidity is high and the temperature is hovering in the mid 90’s, I’m just grateful for a cool house and running water. But if I could go back for just a day, even in this heat, I would do it in a heartbeat, just to be a child with mother again and relive that simple peaceful life in the country in our little house by the ditch.