I grew up in the mountains of Pennsylvania and my wife, Joice, in the lake areas of Michigan. We knew what harsh winters were like, but our summers were usually mild—a time when the young men played baseball and the young women (sometimes) watched them. It was a time for mowing the hay and harvesting the crops. We wanted the sun to shine upon us, burning as necessary, to gather our tans. Once the sunburn settled, there were great patches of skin to remove—like a snake shedding its skin. There were sometimes contests to see who could remove the largest (intact) piece of skin and the boy who won might get a Boy Scout badge.
There were summer thunder showers and my brother and I would stand by our upstairs windows and watch the continuous flashes of lightning and hear the peals of thunder. The lightning would occasionally strike one of our old oak trees or even the lightning rods on the house. It was a wonderful experience for young boys.
We went to Papua New Guinea later and lived there, off and on, for over 30 years. We lived through tropical downpours and earthquakes on a regular basis. But there was no summer, just a dry season and a wet season. The sunrises and sunsets were spectacular and, being near the equator, they were uniformly consistent. But no real summer.
Living in Australia was different again: the winters in the Melbourne area were windy, wet and cold. The summers were unpredictable and the temperatures were in Celsius, so they seemed cooler. I don’t remember any unforgettable summers in Australia.
Then we took up residence in Texas and our summers, in particular, took on a new dimension. They were scalding hot. I remember an old farmer in Pennsylvania once saying, “It must be hot as hell in Texas.” I was just a young boy and knew very little about Texas or hell but now that I am advanced in age, I don’t think Texas summers compare very well with the latter.
Here in Texas, most of us have refrigerators and air-conditioning. I haven’t read in even the newer translations of the Bible that either are available in hell. Hell is indeed a very hot place, although perhaps it can’t compare with a Texas summer.
A Texas summer happens very quickly: yesterday was a perfectly calm and moderately sunny day. The temperature was about 65o Fahrenheit and I could smell the BBQ smoke in the air. I hadn’t heard a siren all day and no one had been shot in Killeen. It stayed in this wonderful state of affairs for about 24 hours.
Then all hell broke loose: the temperature shot up to 105o, there were two murders near Fort Hood and five semis crashed on I-35. The evening newscasters were delighted—camera crews rushed to the scene, where helpful on-lookers were passing our free beer to the survivors and reviewing all that they thought they had seen or heard for the press. Sweat was pouring down the microphones and distorting the stories. It didn’t matter—what one reporter missed, another made up—there was no shortage of information.
Back on the home front and away from the carnage, I noticed a brand on my stomach where the seat belt had touched it. True Texans tell me that this is the real mark of a native. Some of the big fellas wear metal belt buckles with the insignia of the Alamo or their alma mater that takes the place of an expensive tattoo. In the Texas summer sun, it takes about an hour for a fellow to be branded.
After a hot day I once noticed burn marks on my hands from putting them too suddenly on the steering wheel of our car, but I was told that burned calluses on one’s hands were also the mark of a “real” Texan.
What really puzzled me was how the “real” Texans would cook BBQs on such scorching days. Not only did they cook BBQs and beans, but they threw super hot jalapenos into the mix. Again, I was informed that you could tell a “real” old-style Texan cowboy by the long brown scabs along the sides of his tongue. (Women claim not to do this as much, although I have never inspected the mouths of Texas women.)
Texas men are smart enough to wear their cowboy hats in the hot summer. We were not as smart in the north and I keep my dermatologist happy by having spots regularly burned off with liquid nitrogen.
The cowboy hats are big and broad and even in the hottest Texas sun provide shade for one half of the body. We Northerners wore baseball caps and consequently have to have parts of our ears occasionally sliced off by our dermatologist.
The most burdensome part of the day here in the Texas summer is walking from our air-conditioned car to our air-conditioned house. It takes a minute or two and we often break out in a sweat. True Texas have F-150 Ford pickup trucks and they point the air-conditioner vent toward the sidewalk before they make their escape to their house. Some Ford air-conditioner units are so powerful that they will lay down a layer of ice of the sidewalk in about a minute, so that can be a hazard as well.
Everything in Texas is air-conditioned and the open meat counters at HEB grocery store are so cold that I often wear my sweater if I need hamburger or hotdogs. The produce section is better and I can usually take off my jacket for bananas or beans.
The Texans are a hardy lot. They swim in lakes that approach 95o and eat sides of ribs that are about the same temperature. They picnic comfortably in the sizzling sun with the flies, wasps and occasional crow. Texans are generous and will offer you blistering baked beans, sun singed biscuits and searing hot coffee, regardless of the temperature.
It you are lucky, a cold front may blow through and the temperature will drop from 105o to 95o in a matter of minutes. The warm wind will blow away your left-over picnic beans and brisket, paper plates and cups. You will have “messed with Texas” (the state motto).
All this may seem hard to put up with on a sweltering Texas summer day but I’ll wager you that it beats hell—and I ain’t fixin to go there.