Summer nights... a cacophony of cicadas and crickets fill the otherwise quiet and humid evening wherein many birds and animals, like myself seek respite. The waxing moon gives way to the nocturnal travelers that arrive on silent wing or glide on tip toe through the darkness. The air is heavy and still as the smallest of breezes tries to bring a modicum of cooling relief, but to no avail. The fan in the window makes noise but not an appreciable difference. It is just too hot to sleep.
These are the kind of nights that make me wish for Grandma's screen porch. I would lie on top of cool, white cotton sheets on the day bed and listen to the sounds of night. Sometimes I would be lucky and the neighbor's back porch light would be turned off allowing me to watch for shooting stars or marvel at the heat lightning's luminous, yet distant, display. The scent of the sea infused those humid nights, slowly stirring the moisture rich air into a dense fog by dawn, leaving everything outdoors damp as if rained upon. Fog doesn't respect boundaries set by the screens and on those occasions I would wake early to crawl inside, where it would be dry, and finish my sleep on the couch.
Seaside summer nights are different than those on the Midwest prairie. The dog days of August would be the climax of summer temperatures and always the heat would be at its peak by mid afternoon, followed by the on shore breezes that brought relief before the stars emerged. Even next to the sea, we had heat waves that made sleeping miserable... but they would never last for weeks on end as they do here. Temps over 100 degrees are just an expected part of summer on the prairie.
Air conditioning is a part of everyone's life -- in the house, at work, schools, vehicles, even tractors and combines now have a/c. I could stay inside for days on end avoiding the reality of the oppressing heat, I dislike it that much. I would go out to gather mail, or take Casey to the local pool or for a play date, or run to the store -- but simply stepping outside was like walking into a sauna, the air almost too heavy to breathe. And if the steamy air itself wasn’t oppressive enough, the closed vehicles were ovens. It was our practice to open every window and door for 5 – 10 minutes before going anywhere, even though cats would rush in just to see if there was anything inside worth braving the heat. The moment we got in to go the a/c would be blasted and windows closed to keep the heat from sneaking back in.
I remember, growing up on the Cape, when cars had no a/c and folks just rolled the windows down. Ladies, who feared ruin of their coiffed hair, would don kerchiefs or brightly colored scarves and big sunglasses. Jackie Kennedy’s influence on summer fashion was clearly evident. Children, like family the dog, would hang out of windows eyes closed and smiling as the wind blew hair back. It was great fun to put our little hands out the window to ride imaginary waves in the torrent of air. Fathers draped an arm out the window and by summer’s end had a driver’s tan – one arm darker than the other. On days too hot to lounge in the shade everyone went to the water, which was never more than 3 miles in any direction. The ice cream man jingled his way through town ever watchful of the dime raised high to get his attention. Summer seemed innocent and blissful when I was a child.
On these torrid Midwest summer nights I think back on those days of youth and all that they have done to weave fond memories for me. I look at Casey and hope she too is weaving good memories that will keep her company in adulthood. She is as much a daughter of the prairie as I am a daughter of the sea. When I seem wistful and full of reminiscing she points out how the wind blows across the tall grass or the endless bean fields making them shimmer like waves on the open ocean. It is a shared gift that mesmerizes us both. In this way we share a common thread, wherein she has found the ocean in Nebraska where the endless sea of grass meets the azure sky.