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I grew up in the North. That wasn’t really my fault, just where my parents wound up after meeting and marrying in Georgia. We would go back down to Georgia to visit family every year or so. We had a joke that it always rained in Louisville, KY, because every time we would be driving through it on the way from Illinois to Georgia, it would rain there. We might stop on the way. For instance, one year we stopped at the home of a family friend who had moved down to Tennessee. They had a line of blackberry bushes down near where the old railroad tracks used to be.
Just an aside here, but have you ever noticed how folks out in the country give direction by what used to be there?
“Yeah, you take a right where the old silo used to be.”
These kinds of directions are great if you’ve lived there all your life. It may be that that silo fell over in a storm in 1932, but the folks there about are still saying, “Turn where the old silo used to be.”
Or, they’ll give directions based on who used to live somewhere. “Go down to the old Jenkins Place, and half a mile beyond, you take that little dirt track on the right.” Except the sign on the mailbox will say, “Smith,” and has said so since 1978 when the place was sold after Fred Jenkins died in that accident when his tractor hit a bull that had escaped while he was turning in the field. Fred on his tractor was turning. The escaped bull was going straight.
Anyway, there was a line of blackberry bushes along by where the old railroad tracks used to be, and I happened to be wearing a white knit shirt. I know I had that shirt on in my school photos for second grade, so that must have been the summer between second and third grades when I was eight years old, wearing a white shirt, and picking (and eating) blackberries. I might have gotten a little blackberry juice on that shirt, which stained it up right fine. Mama never let me wear that shirt again, either. It would be too small for me by now anyway, I suppose.
But that’s not what this is about. You see, in all my time in the South, I was in the Southeast. Kentucky, Tennessee, Alabama, Georgia, even Florida. And in all my visits, I was always in places with a fair amount of shade. Bigmama’s backyard, for instance, had fig trees, and it was a fine thing having fresh figs, but it was a finer thing having shade. Plus, the trees tend to have their version of perspiration, putting cooling water into the breezes beneath them. There is certainly sun in the Southeast, but it isn’t like the sun one might find in similar latitudes further west.
When he was perhaps twenty, my eldest brother took a job with a company, and that company offered him a promotion, a management position down in Houston. He took it. Those were boom years down in Texas and Houston in particular. Jobs were easy to find, and he was doing very well for himself and living the American dream. He found a young lady, and they decided to get married.
The summer I was eighteen, I drove down with my father to Houston. My mother and other brother were flying down, but my father had a penchant for avoiding planes. It was probably because he was a law enforcement officer and might have to be separated from his 9 mm friend on an airline flight. I learned some things on the drive down, like how to keep the car windows from fogging up in Mississippi heat and humidity. They never covered that in driver’s ed class.
I also learned about the Southern sun. My brother lived in a part of Houston that was just being built. This meant there were no substantial trees. I was a reader, as well as a writer, and I liked to sit outside in the sunshine and read or maybe scribble down a few thoughts or a poem or two. So, I grabbed one of my brother’s lawn chairs and sat down with a book, a pen, and a small spiral notebook. I still have that notebook with one of that day’s entries starting,
Contrails slash across an azure sky…
Well, I was eighteen, and simple observations in high-falutin’ language could pass for poetry back then. But mostly, I sat out there reading. I felt the sun upon my skin. It was warmer than I had ever felt it. Sitting outside in Northern Illinois I was lucky to get any vitamin D or a tan. I went one summer working out in the sun in Northern Illinois and went from blue-skinned to pasty white after the whole summer.
I was reading a dense and philosophical tome. It didn’t have any pictures or anything. Not even a centerfold. I was intensely into the book and enjoying that warm feeling of sun cooking my skin. I was probably out there for two hours.
Now, for those of you who are used to the Houston sun in July, don’t judge me here. Sure, it was a stupid thing to do. But did I know that? I had sat in the sun in higher latitudes without any such effects. It was like what I had learned about clearing the windows in Mississippi. Do you think they had taught that in driver’s ed class in Illinois? No, they had not. And I’m old enough that this was before the big sunscreen push. When I was young, people were still trying to figure out how to get more tan, especially when they were Anglo-Saxons from Illinois.
The wedding was the next day. My brother had picked out white tails for his outfit for the wedding and dove-gray Tuxedos for the groomsmen. Now, there are shades of red that go well with dove gray. Bigmama had dove-gray walls in her living room with white trim, sort of like the white Tuxedo shirt was trim for the Tuxedo, and then she had a dove-gray sofa and chair that had burgundy threads through it. Burgundy and dove-gray are a tasteful combination. Lobster red, as my sunburn was, and dove-gray was not quite as good of a combination. It would have gone better with basic black or white. But there I was, the bright red groomsman in the party. I had gotten enough of the old solar radiation to have more effects than just a bit of color. That made everything over the next few days very interesting. But I lived through it.
Nowadays, I prefer my sunblock to be several layers of sheetrock, shingles, and brick. And if I ever go back to Houston, I’m staying out of the sun.Published in Group Writing
I can see I’m going to have to work harder to get a hearty laugh from you.
That *was* a hearty laugh.
This story is not quite complete. That Mississippi humidity comes up the river, and then another river to Indiana. Though it rarely reaches my driveway now, I grew up in that same summer swelter. Let’s hear it!
You up the Wabash, son? Are you up it without a paddle?
Grew up an hour north of Cincinnati. Up the Miami, sort of…close enough, anyway. The weather was simple: if the Gulf of Mexico had a big ‘H’ over it, then it meant sunny skies with high humidity. If there was a big ‘L,’ that usually meant storms out of the lower plains. My hometown is part of the last gasp of Tornado Alley.
Fancy wedding: Boiled lobster in tails.
Houston for me = humidity and a much loved cousin who I always finagled to meet at my aunt’s in San Antonio (less humid).
Pleasure reading you as always, @arahant.
Ouch. It hurts to think about that sunburn.
Loved this story and all its colors. :)
I’m familiar with the house that used to be pink (in fact I can remember when it was, though dimly) and the barn that used to be white. I also know the location of the Rat House field on the farm. The field was named for the house, and the house for the rats, and the other fields for their geographical relationship to the Rat House field, except for the field over the crick, which was designated “the field over the crick.” If there was a story to the Rat House, it is beyond the ken of living men. The ruins were there when my family added the property to the homestead. So were the rats.
Yep. That’s about right.
“Turn left where the Sears used to be.” The Sears moved from it’s location in the early ’70s to the Mall about 5 miles down the road. And last year the Mall location closed. But if you say “It’s near where the Sears used to be”, it won’t be the Mall you’re talking about.
Ara, so it was you and your family that made it rain every time we were going to go to the zoo. I can’t believe you all didn’t coordinate your family trips with my summer schedule. Shame on you.
Wish my poor hubby had learned this early in life. But as a kid in the ’50’s no one was thinking skin caner out in the hay fields. His dermatologist just keeps sending him back to the MOHS guy.
So far the squamous cell has remained “outside’ his jaw joint.
I thought giving directions by things that used to be there was a Pittsburgh thing. “You go past where the old Isaly’s used to be and make a right”. FWIW Pitsburghers used to say that Isaly’s stood for “I shall always love you sweetheart!”
When we first moved to Aiken (SC), we found out we had to pay property tax on our vehicles.
My wife asked, “Where do you go to pay the taxes?”
The person replied, “The county tax office.” [Well duuuuuh!]
Then my wife asked, “Where is that located?”
The answer was, “In the old hospital.”
Ah, Arahant, you do tell such a lovely tale. Thanks so much.
Those aren’t the only ways they can give confusing directions, but sometimes the directions turn out to be not as crazy as you might think. When I was first assigned to F.E. Warren Air Force Base, the squadron had a notebook with driving directions for the new missile crew members. Finding I would be working first at the Bravo Launch Control Center, I looked up the directions in the notebook. It started out clear enough. “Take I-25 North, to exit 17, then head North-East on US-85.” Then at some point the directions got (I thought) less precise. “Turn right at the tree.” The tree? Which tree? What kind of useless direction is that? But sure enough, along that highway there are several miles with nary a tree in sight, until across from an intersection is a old tree standing right next to the road. The tree.
Few remember now life in the south before air conditioning. I well remember summer nights in the 1940’s, lying in bed sweating, waiting for the late night hours to bring some relief. Even the air brought in by our homemade window fan was no cooler than the air inside, only more humid.
My granddaughters gasped when told that their grandfather actually went to school barefooted. Couldn’t wait for warm spring weather to shed our shoes. (Just the boys) It took about six weeks to toughen the soles of our feet but by summer’s end we could walk across hot pavement without having to hurry. Different times then but looking back, the “good old days” were not that good.
If you ask for directions in Marrietta, Georgia, chances are that you will be directed to look for the Big Chicken.
“Big Chicken?” you might ask.
“You’ll know it when you see it.”
And so you shall.
Yep. I had a great-great-grandfather born in Louisville. Always wondered if that was why he left. (Although I suspect it was because his daddy was on the losing side of The War.)
If I wind up doing another Group Writing this month, I’ll be sure to include pumping water from the well just for you.
This reminds me of the worst sunburn I ever got as an adult. Hubby, kids and I flew to Hawaii for a two-week redneck vacation, i.e., staying with relatives. I read a travel guide, which had the helpful tip: “Wear sunscreen! The island sun is intense!”
Now, I’m from Alabama. I know about the hot sun. I figured that advice was for folks from Minnesota. I also know that I burn easily. Sunscreen is a big part of my life.
Well, somehow in hiking around Oahu, I got a bit of a farmer’s tan. You know, one that starts midway between shoulder and elbow. We had reservations at a high-end restaurant for a couple of days hence, and I planned to wear a cute halter-top dress.
This would not do. So, when I hit Waikiki Beach, I slathered SPF-1000 everywhere except upper arms and shoulders. I basked for about 15 minutes, then applied sunscreen to the aforementioned areas.
Oh, my. Not only did I turn bright red, that Waikiki burn blistered beautifully. Not only was I in pain, I had the knowledge that I had deliberately done this to myself.
And Pittsburgh. Went I first went there for college in 1988, the first thing I noticed about driving there was that there were no street signs. (The resolution of which is a different story.)
The next thing I discovered was that all directions were from “where Kaufmann’s used to be. I thought, that’s funny, I guess it had moved recently?
Nope, Kaufmann’s moved into their new digs in 1939.
Now, you notice that that’s the second example about giving country directions in Pittsburgh. What people don’t realize is that Pittsburgh is just a really big small town in the country of Western Pennsylvania.
Who speak their own language. Now red up your room!
Ouch. As a teenager (1970’s, pre-sunscreen era) I had a sunburn on my legs that blistered. I could barely walk for a few days. I did not then, and still do not, wear short pants, but had been talked into it by friends for what turned into a lengthy visit to the beach (Newport Beach, California).
But, the girls who had talked me into the excursion were very solicitous of my comfort for those days of pain, so at least I got some girl-attention out of it (I’m a guy). Also, the later peeling of dead skin was fascinating to my somewhat science-oriented mind.
This is the part I got wrong. No girls involved, just my own stupidity and a book.