Playing It Cool

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The sun had barely arisen on this clear summer day. Yet Hayes, the neighbor kid, my siblings and I had already put in a full morning.

We romped through the wooded path that connected our ranch home and Hayes’ rough-hewn dogtrot house. Later, when the relentless sun scorched us, we’d seek the shadowy breezeway separating his family’s bedrooms from the kitchen.

But first, during our play in the woods we discovered an impressive four-foot shed snakeskin near a moss-covered log.

“Rattlesnake,” Hayes said with confidence about our scaly find. The more likely species was king, a danger only to the eggs in his family’s hen house. (I’ve since heard about folks placing porcelain white doorknobs and golf balls in chicken houses to trick egg-stealing snakes. If the foreign objects are swallowed, the reptiles die from a combination of indigestion and stupidity.)

A sand pile at Hayes’ house proved a wonderful spot for constructing frog houses. We did some shedding of our own, flinging off flip-flops and sneakers, and digging deep into the sand. Released from vulcanized rubber, our unadorned feet wiggled with delight at the cooling moisture underneath the sand. We covered our feet, patting the sand in place, then carefully sliding out our feet. Tiny dark sand caves for homeless amphibians remained.

Next we scrounged up shuttlecocks and racquets. None of us knew the rules of badminton. But that didn’t stop us from gleefully whacking at the webby plastic objects, aiming more for opponents than points. We tried to scrounge up a croquet set, but a couple of the balls and most of the wickets were missing. Besides, by now, even our prodigious energy had waned as the sun had waxed onward and upward.

As fried as the proverbial egg on a sizzling sidewalk, I melted away from our outdoor play, listening to the siren song calling me indoors. I tippied my sandy-toed self inside, hoping to avoid Mama. If she saw me acting like a human blockade in front of the air conditioner, she would shoo me away.

Even now, I still love the magic of an air conditioner. One time, I visited the tiny Apalachicola, Fla., museum that pays tribute to John Gorrie, the physician and inventor considered the father of air conditioning. People were less inclined to depend on the capricious breeze of nature once houses were artificially cooled. While I lament less time spent in porch swings and hammocks, I can’t really say I regret the reliability and comfort of artificially cooled air.

Refreshed from my air condition binge, I wandered into the bedroom I shared with my younger sister. I could hear the kids outside chanting, “Red Rover, Red Rover, send Pete right over.” I admired their perseverance through the sticky humidity that had transformed this dog day into something more akin to a dead dog day of summer.

I opened our closet door. There, amid puzzles and cards, games of Scrabble, Operation, and Candy Land, and our stuffed animal menagerie, I found what I was looking for. The plain black cloth-covered book was my secret weapon against summer heat. I don’t recall its exact title but I well remember the awesome subject it covered: Norway. The word alone still gives me goose bumps.

I’ll never know how a book about a Scandinavian country worked its way into my possession. And I don’t know that I actually learned much about this exotic land – I believe I thought a fjord was Norwegian for “Ford,” my daddy’s brand of truck. Nonetheless, I was thoroughly captivated by the “Land of the Midnight Sun” and its wintry landscape, far, far removed from my own sun-soaked South.

I could sit for hours on the green tile floor of our closet, contemplating Norwegian wonders, happily lost in an ice-capade fantasy.

Only delighted screams mixed with laughter wafting in from outside could break my midsummer winter fantasy. That sound could only mean my comrades had pulled out the garden hose and fired up the sprinkler. In one of the most delightful rituals of summer, they were now immersing themselves repeatedly in a kind of action-packed baptism. I closed my book and hurried to join them, eager to receive my own seasonal anointment.

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