Monday, April 4, 2011
Winter was not the only challenge, growing up in central Illinois. There was summer too. Summer had three faces, hot, humid, stormy. It could display each face individually or in combination with each other. Stormy, while potentially very dangerous, nonetheless often broke a spell of hot or hot and humid. But not for long. Hot could last for weeks, sometimes combining with humid to make one doubly miserable, but often hot, working alone, baked everything within its reach, day after day.
One saving grace in central Illinois is that the wind blows much of the time, sometimes infuriatingly hard and persistent. Thus if one can find a shade beneath a tree or some shelter, there is hope that the cocoon of sweat in which all residents live can be dried a bit before it is necessary to re-enter the battle against the heat. Fluids are essential to life even though one is encased in salty “fluid” from morning to night – and through the night. Farmers who hired teenagers to hoe weeds from their mile-long fields of corn or soybeans, if they showed no other kindness to their workers, at least saw to it that there was a source of water at the ends of the fields. Water, even water warmed by the sun to tepidness, was welcomed by the thirsty workers.
Eventually the Rapp household would obtain electric fans – window fans – to increase the flow of air through the house, especially at night when the daytime winds had weakened or ceased to blow at all. But before that glorious day we found a way to cool the night enough to get some needed sleep. There were no carpets in our house, only bare plank floors at first. Later linoleum covered the planks. The hard surface of the linoleum floors was pleasantly cool to lie upon so we kids stretched ourselves out in the living room at night, just inside the screened front door, allowing any wind still blowing to pass over us evaporating the sweat that never left us, day or night. How the adults coped, I’m not sure. I was self-centered already in those days.
The little church in the middle of our block had three modes of cooling: windows without screens, opened wide to catch any breeze, paper fans bearing advertisements for a local funeral home, and three or four ceiling fans that seemed to rotate slowly but, none the less, could fling a June Bug across the room if it got in the path of one of the blades. We were not members of the church and attended only during special meetings or summer revival services. I remember little about the sermons preached there but the impression left by the outcry of a “sister” who had just been the recipient of a June Bug flung from an overhead fan is an indelible memory. The members of the church were normally quite “emotional” in their worship but nothing in their normal worship compared to the “blessing” a bug down the collar could elicit.
There were other modes of cooling available to those who could afford them or had time to avail themselves. It was reported that there were swimming holes at various places around town but we never frequented any. The closest thing we had to a swimming hole was Ten Mile Creek which was hardly deep enough for wading. But, for boys who didn’t mind getting mud between their toes, it provided a brief and satisfying respite from the heat. Nothing, though, exceeded the storm for general relief. Often it was short-lived but young and old alike received its benefits. And if it was gentle in nature, without electrical activity, we were sometimes allowed to don cut-off jeans and play out in the rain. But best of the best was a gully-washer that overflowed the street drains and turned the ditches into hip-deep wading pools. Of course we were forbidden to wade in such pools for fear that we would step on something dangerous and because the water was filled with silt and debris. After one such storm the neighbor kids were “swimming” in a ditch and showing such delight that Donald and I could not resist joining them. We were apprehended, of course, by Mom, dragged home and forced to stand against the faux brick siding on the back of our house while Mom pumped buckets of cold water from the well and “washed us down” saying, “You want water . . . water you shall have!” Needless to say, we were well cooled at the end of that episode.