By Joe Rector
Some of the hottest days of summer have descended upon East Tennessee the last few weeks. Like much of the rest of the nation, we are firmly in the grips of an oppressive heat wave. Temperatures have soared into the 90s, and the “feels like temperature”-something we never heard of as kids-reaches to 100 or above. I have no doubts that some of the unusual weather occurrences of late can be attributed to global warming, but I also know that at this time of year, it’s supposed to be hot; it’s summer time.
Something else I’ve noticed is few young people are venturing out of the house. It’s a safe bet that several of them are dead asleep after having stayed up until the early hours of the morning. Many more of them are stowed away in their bedrooms awake, but not really. Instead, they are zoned out of consciousness as they exercise their thumbs in battles of Fortnite or some other video game. Even if youths make it to the outside, their stays are brief. Complaining, “It’s too hot,” or “I’m getting sweaty” have them high-tailing it back into the shade-drawn rooms where the air conditioning is set in the mid-60s.
I’d like for young people to go back with me to live in the 1960s. We sang praises to cool summer mornings. Air conditioning wasn’t a convenience most families had. Window fans and box fans stirred air enough to cool temperatures or at least make us believe we felt relief. By mid-morning, the cool air had disappeared; humid, sweltering temperatures arrived. We were already outside. Sometimes jobs around the house had been assigned. Weeds needed pulling in the garden. Grass around the house, flower gardens and paths needed trimming with hand held cutters.
Sometimes a ball game had been scheduled for the morning, and boys rode their bikes to a yard where it would be played. Sometimes we rode bikes to Hardin Valley from Ball Camp to spend the day with a friend. That kept us cool as we made our own breeze by pedaling just a little faster.
By the time noon rolled around, we were melting outside. Still, it beat frying in the house. Trees offered shade for relief from the sun’s rays, and we sat as still as possible on the grass to keep from being hotter. Boys found other things to do at those times. Taking a blade of grass to stick down a crawdad hole occupied time, although no one ever seemed to pull a creature from its lair. More daring souls played games of “stretch,” where a knife was thrown into the ground and a boy stretched his leg to the spot. The loser was the first one who couldn’t reach that far.
In the evening, we sat at the supper table, ate food from the garden, and washed it down with at least two big classes of milk. Then we headed back outside. The waning hours of dusk were spent chasing lightning bugs or taking unsuspecting buddies on snipe hunts. The worst sound of the day was a parent’s call for a child to come inside.
Night was filled with baths and just a couple of television shows. Then it was off to bed. With a little luck, the wind blew through the bedroom window or a summer shower would fall. We all knew the next day would bring the same routine, and we loved it. Summer might have been hot, but outside is the place we always want to be. Young people today would have a fuller life if they would venture out just a few minutes each day. They might be surprised what was waiting for them. I’d tell them to give it a try.