Being Made To Think On A Very Hot Day
Now that it’s official, my being genuinely elderly that is, memories keep bubbling up at the most inappropriate times---make that always--- and I can’t seem to tamp them down as easily as I used to. And because we had some awfully hot days this summer, some old memories were forced to do a bit of extra bubbling, and one of them will be this column’s story, a true one. And you’ll please forgive me if I come off sounding a little saintly.
The temperature that day was over 100 and there wasn’t a drop of dryness anywhere. It was so humid, if any part of one’s bare flesh accidentally made connection with a wall or large appliance, it would stick there, the way the tongue will stick to a frozen metal pole in December in Maine. (Sure I have.)
My dear husband Mongo and I were driving somewhere that day—I forget to where—feeling pretty smug and comfortable (in other words, dry and cool) in the interior of our past-prime car, (but not so past as to not have AC.) Isn’t it amazing how glorious a horribly hot, sticky summer day can be when viewed from the interior of an automobile filled with lots and lots of BTUs? Paradise, right?
It was. Mongo and I were having a great time. Terrific music played on the radio; we were planning a picnic, laughing and horsing around and were obviously really looking forward to wherever it was we were going.
We were driving on an old two-lane country road, enjoying the scenery and passing many old homes built close to the edge. I turned my head to look out the side window and saw a young boy, probably eleven or twelve, dark haired and husky, and I could see he was busy cooling himself off. He was wearing a snorkel and diving mask, and was standing waist deep in water, fully prepared to duck down into the cool, shining wetness to escape the day’s hideous heat and the noise and exhaust fumes from the cars and trucks rumbling by his family’s ramshackle, sagging home.
Mongo and I zipped by that kid. I don’t even think he saw the boy as he drove, but I turned to look out of the back window as we sped on and saw that kid checking the straps of his diving gear, looking very serious, and I could certainly understand how anxious he must have been to get all the way down into that cool, dark water.
The sight of that boy sobered me, and I turned back to the front, suddenly not feeling much like laughing with Mongo any more, in the cool, dry interior of our car that day.
Now I felt guilty and saddened. I began to feel an annoying and pressured sense of not being fully appreciative of my very good life, and that fact added more to my gloom.
Mongo turned to me. “What’s with you?” he said, seeing my serious face. “Nuthin,’” I answered, and of course the way most men always believe their wives when they say “nuthin,’” he believed me.
What was wrong was that boy I saw? He made me think, that’s what was wrong, when what I wanted to do that day was to not think much, to have fun, be cool and dry in that furnace weather and to definitely not feel guilt. And, not only that, I wanted to feel smug and cool and dry. All I wanted was to be in our big old car with enough money to buy it some gas, and have enough left over to also buy some food for our picnic. What I wanted to do was to continue laughing, to keep driving without care, to keep speeding happily toward our now forgotten destination. I did not like that I was being made to squirm, to not look out the window, to not laugh and play inside our car. I did not like that suddenly my conscience was being pinched. Hard.
What I also did not want that day was to be more balanced, less self-centered and more concerned with the world’s problems, large or small. What I did not want was to be forced to face the reality that some people have to make enjoyment and pleasure for themselves with what they have lying about, instead of their being able to jump into an air conditioned car and drive off somewhere to find that elusive enjoyment and pleasure. What I didn’t want that day, was to think about other people not having nice things, not having the things in life that can bring fun and joy. In other words, people not having it so great.
But that kid in his diving gear forced me to reluctantly think about all that stuff on that beautiful and scalding day. Yes, he was standing in that cool water, splashing himself with it, preparing to submerge. So what was the problem? The problem was his swimming hole, his pond, his private pool, all his own, beckoning, ready to make him feel happy and cool and refreshed. The problem you see, at least for me, but clearly not for him, was that the water he was standing waist deep in was contained in a rusting metal blue painted barrel.