Saturday, August 7, 2010

There Is No Escaping Summer in America

The day it reached 106 degrees in Junction City, according to both and the bank thermometer, I received a $388 electric bill. The house's two air-conditioning units struggled mightily to keep the air at 80 degrees inside while I wore minimal clothing after work and kept the ceiling fans circulating. Meanwhile, my beautiful mystery companion reported that the mercury was at 98 degrees in East Texas, though the humidity certainly made it feel every bit as miserable.

There is simply no escaping summer in America.

Oh, I forgot. My buddy Frank, who showed up here from Austin in time for Junction City's impressive fireworks show — not the one at the park but the unofficial festivities put on by the neighbors living within a couple dozen blocks, which rivaled the soundtrack to ""Saving Private Ryan — reported that his extended road trip landed him in Bend, Ore. His sister lives there. The weather is lovely, he claims. Hang around, buddy, I thought. A heat wave is bound to arrive.


My kinfolks in New Hampshire, where I spent my first 13 years, endured a blast of furnace air about the same time we were enjoying a cool Kansas evening on the roof, listening and watching the fireworks light up a drizzly sky. Temperatures in early July hit 100 degrees in parts of the Granite State. That is 1,759 miles northeast of Longview, Texas, where my parents moved the brothers and me in June of 1968. It is 1,540 miles from Junction City, though not nearly as far north. (I love Just saying.)

My resentment of summer surely stems from that move from New Hampshire to East Texas. If I still lived up among the Yankees it would be winter that riled me. I have never adjusted to the heat, though I endure. Last Saturday, I got a wild hare and once again trimmed down the wild growth in my yard — this time chigger-proofing myself successfully — and then mowed most of the grass.

Big deal, you say. Big deal yourself. This yard is huge and on a hill, and I was using a self-propelled mower that cuts a measly 22-inch swath. It seemed like a good idea at the time. Roughly a gallon of iced tea and a plate of vegetarian quesadillas from El Tapatio were required to restore my equilibrium. I'm done mowing for the season and will speed dial the fellow with the big mowing machine next time the grass needs cutting.


My parents upon moving to Longview immediately enlisted me in Boy Scouts, because my grandfather was the paid executive in those parts. Just a few weeks after arriving from New Hampshire — where the snow usually doesn't disappear from the dark crannies until early May — I was drafted into a 50-mile hike from Caddo Lake to Longview, to be endured over five days.

I fell out on the third day from heat exhaustion. My parents had to come rescue me, which was embarrassing. I have borne a grudge against summer since. Perhaps I should seek therapy. I used to think I should simply seek cooler climes after the summer solstice, but where? Times are hard and uncertain, even for the luckiest of us.

The first fellow who befriended me at Troop 201 was Mickey Melton, a tall, rail-thin fellow, same age as me. We renewed acquaintances when I moved back to Longview in January 2008 as publisher of the paper, after being gone for 35 years. Mickey by then was a community leader, former school board member, one of the founders of a racial unity organization, a gentle soul. He called me soon after I returned and bought lunch. We talked about that ill-fated hike. Of course, he was kind about my failing to complete the journey — like me, a bit perplexed about my parents' judgment in sending a little Yankee kid on such a trek in the East Texas heat.

Mickey was honored earlier this year with that city's Unity Award for his efforts over many years to promote racial healing. A few months later he died of an apparent heart attack while working on his farm. I will never recall that hike without remembering gentle Mickey — invariably stooped over when we talked because I was nearly a foot shorter.

Summer will soon pass. The seasons soar by when you're my age. I need to do a better job enjoying this summer, though the temperature outside nearly outstrips my IQ. Each day is precious, even the searing ones.

Originally published in the Junction City (Kansas) Daily Union, August 7, 2010.


  1. Gary, thank you so much for mentioning Mickey in your blog posting today. You describe him eloquently. Mickey truly was a gentle soul. He valued his friends, his Boy Scout days, and his community. He always thought if he just worked hard enough that he could make a difference in some way. He definitely did. Rebecca Jenkins Melton

  2. Byron and I couldn't agree with you more about Mickey -- a gentle soul, and also a giant of a man not only in stature, but in heart.