When Henry James said “summer afternoon” were two of the most beautiful words in the English language, you knew he had never visited Austin or Houston or Dallas in August.  He was probably shivering in some damp, frigid garden in London, trying to get warm and dry so his fingers would thaw out and he could write another 1,000-page novel that hordes of people would rave about and pretend they’d read cover-to-cover without going into a drooling coma.

It’s different when you live in Texas.  “Summer afternoon” presents two of the most horrible words in the English language.  But part of living here is being tough and uncomplaining about it.

Every year, when summer blazes its way to your world and settles in with relentless fury, you don’t complain.  You live in Texas and it’s summer and it’s unbearable.  Big deal.  What did you expect?  Shut up about it.  Or move to Canada.

It’s kind of like eating raw jalapenoes or stepping on red ants with your bare feet: You just do it.  (About the ants: You have to do it very quickly and I haven’t tried it since I was a kid, but it’s still a Texas rite of passage.)

In fact, not only are you supposed to be stoic about the heat — you also kind of enjoy seeing the rest of the world staggered by weather that resembles placing your head and the rest of your body in a pre-heated oven and just staying there till the sun goes down and the temperature plummets into the 90s.  Over the years, we’ve hosted visitors from Japan and Germany during the summer, and I was really pretty sure we were going to lose the German to heatstroke.  Similarly, the only thing I enjoyed about the recent Bush administration was seeing mobs of reporters getting the vapors following W around his Crawford “ranch,” somehow convinced that moving brush in the withering August heat was something normal people did.

Having said that, I have to immediately recant and admit that our current heat wave is killing me and everybody else I know.  We can’t talk about anything else.  That’s because this is June — understand?  July and August and September, well, of course, they are blast furnaces, relentless and overwhelming.  But June has always been fairly mild and forgiving, warm, but not blistering.  In June, you can pretend it’s not going to be so bad, that summer can be borne.

Not this year, with its burning, unbroken string of triple-digit assaults.  Thursday night, I went to meet a friend downtown at 8 p.m.  8 p.m. — and it was still 102, according to the dash of the car.  I cautiously got out of the car and felt something stirring.  It was a wind that I believe resembled the blast-furnaces of hell, scorching everything in its wake.  Isn’t wind supposed to be cooling and refreshing?

So, here I am, reduced to this: constant complaints about the heat, the heat, the heat.  It’s become my enduring excuse for not doing things.  Sure, I’ve noticed, finally, that the inspection sticker on my car expired in April, but there’s nothing I can do about it, because there’s no way I can expose myself to walking a few blocks from the filling station.  If I get caught, I will throw my feverish, sweaty body at the mercy of the court, I will bleat pathetic excuses about sunstroke and triple-digit dementia, I will refuse to leave the air-conditioned courtroom.

Excuse me.  I am now going to open the freezer door and stand there for several minutes.

(Copyright 2009 by Ruth Pennebaker)

7 comments… add one
  • Cindy A Link

    Understandable how the Texas population increased exponentially after the invention of home air conditioning. Before then, Yankees that came to visit knew better than to move to the furnace of Hell.

  • Just thought you’d like to know the temperature here on the island is 68 and sunny. A gentle cool breeze is blowing.

    Just kidding, I’m really really sorry you Texans are cooking.

  • I get it, truly I do. After living in Houston for 15 summers I know what you mean about heat, real heat. You’re right; you just put up with it or as you say, “move to Canada”. That’s sort of what we did 17 years ago when we moved to Seattle. The natives here get restless when the thermometer hits the high eighties and God forbid the mid nineties for all of the 5 days out of the summer that it decides to be warm. When we moved here we were really freaked to find out that NO ONE had airconditioners except in their cars. EEEEEK! But, for the few days that one would want A/C in Seattle, we take a deep breath and before long it blows along.
    I feel for you though; when the sidewalk at night radiates the heat back into your face, you know the day has been a scorcher.  Keep cool if you can.
    Love your blog!

  • Chris Link

    I actually am as close to Canada as I care to be (Birch Bay, WA), but I put in enough years in Southern California and then Northern to deserve this.  Agree with Kate in that we giggle a little when we hear complaints about the heat here.  Our third summer and we finally are getting some ripe tomatoes…but all of the fabulous wild berries have made up for their lack.

  • ruthpennebaker Link

    It rained today!  I bet the temperature won’t even get out of the 90s!  I just may get religion.

  • Well, yesterday the UK Met Office issued the first of this year’s health warnings because temperatures here were due to reach 82.

    The Met Office spokesman said that (among other things) we mustn’t drink tea, because it was “dehydrating”. Afterwards the BBC was flooded with letters, phone calls and emails in protest.

    Tonight they issued a “clarification”, explaining that while eating dry tea leaves would indeed be dehydrating, an average mug of tea would provide at least 200 ml of useful fluid and that therefore it be, on balance, hydrating. Dry tea leave eaters were very disconsolate.

    I am very sorry and embarrassed that I cannot tell you exactly who the Met Office are, though I assure you they are the ones who give us our forecasts and tell us not to drive when the roads are slippery, and that we mustnt go out in the noon day sun and we pay for them, of course, out of public funds. This is what their website says:

    “We are one of the world’s leading providers of environmental and weather-related services. Our solutions and services meet the needs of many communities of interest… from the general public, government and schools, through broadcasters and online media, to civil aviation and almost every other industry sector – in the UK and around the world.”

    It’s possible that Austin is a community of interest! In that case you could apply for a solution to your heatwave.

    Or you could just have a nice cup of tea (wet).

  • David Link

    You are SO DEAD ON! I have been griping about the heat in Dallas for the past couple weeks. I have started looking at moving to San Francisco to just get away from Texas summers. I can’t take it anymore…

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