Addled By The Heat, Turning To Air-Conditioned Cars And Poetry About Snow

Jul 26, 2018

When I was a girl, for some inexplicable reason, my brothers and I always had to sit in birth order in the back seat of the Pontiac. That meant that on hot days, I was uncomfortably sandwiched between my two brothers.  

Our car didn’t have air conditioning. I complained constantly about having my knees touch the boys’ sweaty legs. 

My poor mother, an unheralded pioneer in coolant technology, would drape my knees with ice-cold washcloths. It worked until they started dripping down my legs and into my Keds.

When I was older and had an air-conditioned car, I beat the heat by driving north. Anywhere north.

One summer when it was hot as blazes, I set out for Vermont. By nightfall, I'd driven as far as Stowe. I got out of the car, had a taco, and three hours later, collapsed into my furnace-like apartment feeling nothing but out of gas.

I still prefer to confront a heat wave by driving around in a cold car.

Just the other week, when the temps hit 90, I drove out to Cummington. I had seen a great scarecrow out that way and wanted to check it out again. When the temps sizzle, I’ll accept any quest.

Heading out Route 9, past farms and the fairgrounds, my thoughts turned to Richard Wilbur. The great American poet lived in that neck of the woods for most of his long life, and loved the pragmatic Yankee farmers who tended the fields.

As I was trying to coax more from the air conditioning, Wilbur’s wise lines about July in New England ran through my mind. For a moment -- and maybe that’s all we can hope for in a heat wave -- his words felt like a breeze.

Out Here

Strangers might wonder why

That big snow-shovel’s leaning

Against the house in July.

Has it some cryptic meaning?

It means at least to say

That, here, we needn’t be neat

About putting things away,

As on some suburban street.

What’s more, by leaning there

The shovel seems to express,

With its rough and ready air,

A boast of ruggedness.

If a stranger said in sport

“I see you’re prepared for snow,”

Our shovel might retort

“Out here, you never know.”

Martha Ackmann is a writer who lives in Leverett, Massachusetts. Her new book on Emily Dickinson will be published next year.