Man, those days were hot …

When the heat of summer is upon us, I hear a common refrain, “When I was a kid it was always like this. We had no air conditioning. If we had a fan, it was one of those desk ones with no cage. It circuited hot air.” Well, they’re not far off. When I was growing up in a third-floor tenement in Providence, the days were hot, the nights were brutal.

The old saying was “Summer days were hot enough to fry an egg on the sidewalk.” I’m sure we tried that once or twice. We cooled under sprinklers or swam at the Olneyville Boys Club, sometimes at the Narragansett shore. We made tar balls from hot tar scraped off the steaming streets. Sewing bees sewed in the daytime, cicadas hummed at night and lightning bugs sparkled on their evening soirees.  We did not have a thermometer to measure the heat in our tenement but, if we had, I’m sure it would hit ninety plus. And that was day after day after day.

Nights in the clammy oven of our third-floor bedroom could be unbearable. The air was still and silent. Adjacent homes were close, and the rare breeze that trickled through was a welcomed friend. Time passed slowly. I tossed. I turned. I walked around the house. Sweat trickled under my arms. The occasional mosquito that got through the screen was an annoying pest that was never satisfied. To sleep was not difficult; it was impossible. Nevertheless, those nights lent themselves to comforting memories — in retrospect

The heat drove the adults outside. Hearing soft chatter from the first-floor porch below, my brother Peter and I decided to follow the murmurs, muffled laughter, the calls of the cicadas, the chirps of the crickets and  the lively display of  firefly illuminations. The street dogs were resting.

Attracted by the sounds below as bees to honey, we rolled out of bed and snuck down the stairs to sit shirtless on the porch floor off to the side, hopefully unnoticed. Mom, Aunt Della and Grandma glanced and continued talking. As I remember, Mom was in her pajamas, Aunt Della in a nightgown and Grandma in a house dress and backless black slippers.

The moonlight and layers of stars sprinkled the clear night. More glows  came from  nearby streetlights. Bugs flickered to tap the lights’ metal hats. Shadows from the trees and houses painted the street. Mumbling came from neighbors sitting nearby. They too were attempting to chat away the heat. The sounds were comforting as people made the best of the hotness. They were used to much tougher situations.

Peter and I sat motionless, moving only to smush a mosquito. We sat on that porch for what seemed like hours late into the night. “Time for bed kids.” Up we trundled. I listened to the murmurs below while waiting for a breeze, any breeze. Finally, we dozed to the ongoing music of the voices.

Why did it seem so much hotter in those days? How did we survive it? Easy. We had a porch.

** Published in yesterday’s GoLocalProv