Thursday, July 30, 2009

Musing on the heat...

From the middle of a record heat wave, from the 86 degree interior of my apartment at 7 AM, I have to say I'm tired of it.

I grew up in Arkansas, so I'm no stranger to heat like this. It's unrelenting there in the summer, and the humidity is always wrapped around you like a shawl of thick soup. And even though almost everyone has air conditioning these days, it was not so when I was a child.

And because I was a child, the standard tricks for cooling off were always linked to being cared for: my mom urging me to drink ice water, my dad placing a bowl of ice on the kitchen table and positioning an oscillating fan behind it and making sure that my brother and I were in its path as we ate our supper. My great-grandmother turning on the attic fan at night to pull the slightly cooler air in from outside and taking me to the bathroom to run cold water over my wrists, just at the pulse points: "it will cool your blood so you can sleep!" My other grandmother making all the children sit on the edges of the beds before retiring, as she moved from room to room in the dark with a basin of cold water and a washcloth, bathing our feet before we put them onto the white sheets.

I couldn't help thinking about these things the last few nights as I walked past the gazebo into the garden at dusk to water my second crop of mustard greens and my beet seedlings for fall.

There were the men and women who frequent the benches and line the mulched beds beneath trees. Their plastic bags were with them, their pants legs rolled up, their shirts open, their hair plastered with sweat to their faces. They had water...I looked for that. But it was miserable. And though a couple smiled and greeted me and remarked on the misery of such temperatures, there were others who lowered their eyes as I passed.

I got to the shed and retrieved the water key and the watering can and set about my business. I wondered what would happen if I gathered up all those people and sat them down on one of the benches, one-by-one, and poured this cool water over their feet. If I would be refreshing them or just washing away my own sense of conflictedness about the social and cultural realities that structured my life and theirs.

I finished watering and walked back through the lushness (why, oh, why, didn't I plant tomatoes, this of all years? I could have even managed okra, I'm certain, with this weather!), and though I wanted to escape out the front entrance, I retraced my steps.

I walked back through the makeshift encampment, and I met the eyes of everyone who met mine.

There is no message to this musing, no end.

It's still very hot.

I miss my grandmothers.