Summer Night's Song

The temperature is in the upper 80’s even though it’s after 8:00 p.m. My laptop immediately began to “sweat” when I removed it from the house and to the porch, so much so that I had to get a paper towel to wipe it down. The humidity must be near 100%, but it doesn’t deter Amy or me from spending at least part of every evening on our porch.

One thing we like about sitting out here is the sound of insects. It’s July, and that means the lightning bugs have disappeared and been replaced by the cicadas. Their song is hypnotic. The tone is what I think an alien craft might sound like. I’ve not seen these little creatures, but they make enough racket to let all of God’s children know they’re alive and well. Most of them start on their own, but in no time they’ve fallen into a pulsating rhythm.

As kids, we’d hear the cicadas as we lay at the foot of our beds and turned our ears toward the open window. Our hopes were that the constant song would mesmerize us until we forgot about how breeze-starved the house was and finally nodded off to sleep. The woods at the back of the house were thick with a choir of insects, and the trees in the front yard held another group of performers.

One week each August our family and the Burns family made a week-long journey to King Cottages. We’d swim in the icy cold river all day long and sometimes at night. That cabin had a huge screened porch on the back, and we’d gather out there in the evenings to talk, play Rook, or read (only during desperate times). As the effects of too much sun and swimming kicked in, we kids would settle. It was then that we listened to the cicadas. Accompanied by the sound to of the rushing mountain waters that flowed not more than one hundred feet away, they sang to the Smoky Mountains and thrilled audiences.

Mother loved the cicadas as well. At home, she sat in a bench swing under a big maple tree in the back yard. She’d throw her legs lengthwise along the swing, put her right arm on the back, and slowly move backward and forward in her favorite ride. Mother didn’t say much during those times; I figure she was praying or talking to Daddy, who’d left her too early to take care of three boys. Sometimes she would lean her head on the arm and fall asleep until the wee hours of the night. When she woke, the cicadas would still be singing.

Nature’s musicians would be singing on the last night of summer before school. Falling asleep was hard, whether it was the night before elementary or high school, college, or, yes, even teaching. Excitement of a new year mixed with sadness over the loss of summer and the freedom it had given. Those songs continued through the first weeks of football season as well.

Now Amy and I sit on our porch and listen each night. The cicadas are still singing in the trees at the edge of my childhood yard. Now, those oaks, sweet gums, maples, and pines make up our side yard and the scenery on which we look. A little sweat or stickiness is a small price to pay to be able to hear the song of a summer night.

Amy and I travel to bed reluctantly. We’d love to open our bedroom window ever so slightly in order to hear the cicadas as we fall asleep. However, allergies, a dog who parks at the sound of a gnat fart, and our dependence on air conditioning prevent us from throwing open the sash. Never to worry, the cicadas seem to sense our quandary and decide to sing just a little louder.

I hope that I make it to heaven when my time ends. I also hope that the place is filled with lightning bugs, croaking frogs, and most of all, singing cicadas.

Feels Like Temperatures

Several years ago, Lewis Grizzard used to make fun of television folks that covered the weather. He’d discuss color weather radar and how blips were nothing more than “ground clutter.” Grizzard suggested that a weather dog be used instead. The dog was sent outside; if it came in wet, rain was falling. If the dog didn’t come back, Grizzard said it was windy. These days, I’ve got another gripe for meteorologists. It’s about “feels like weather.”

Amy and I spent a few days at Myrtle Beach, SC not long ago. Rain fell on the afternoon that we arrived, but then clear skies arrived for the rest of the time. In fact, the sun broke through with vengeance. When we got up in the mornings, temperatures already were hovering around 80. At the hottest parts, those numbers had gone up to the mid-90’s or higher. However, that was no problem with an umbrella, beach chairs, the Atlantic Ocean, a pool, and room air conditioning.

What confused me was what the television guys referred to as the heat index. According to them, the temperature might have been 95, but the “feel like” temperature was 110. Huh? I don’t get it. If the thermometer reads, 95, then it feels like that. Okay, maybe the humidity is high so that the air needs to be cut with a knife. Perhaps the humidity is low and 95 degrees isn’t so sweltering. In either case, 95 is 95, not 110.

In a time before all homes had air conditioning, we weren’t ever cautioned about the heat index. No one ever said, “Be careful because it feels like 120 degrees although the real temperature is only a toasty 98.” Our parents told us to find some shade and take it easy. At night we lay under a window and prayed for a breeze to cool us. One large box fan was used to cool the entire house. If we ever fell asleep, the perspiration on the sheets cooled us a bit.

It’s the same thing in winter. The temperature is never simply the number on the thermometer. The wind chill has to be calculated in order to give a correct reading. That always drops things at least a couple degrees. Supposedly, the wind makes the temperatures lower because it feels different on our skins. I hate to sound like a broken record, but 20 degrees is 20 degrees. Wind just makes the conditions more miserable.

In the “old days,” we never heard about wind chill temperatures. Oh, it was plenty cold, but on blustery days, a “brass monkey” alert was issued between friends, and everyone knew what that meant. We put on plenty of layers of clothing before going out to play in the snow, we drank hot chocolate, and the entire family huddled around the warm morning stove that burned hunks of coal. One of the greatest days in our family’s life came when Jim and I were seven or eight. Daddy had a basement dug so that a coal-burning furnace could be installed. Our house was warm, even though we arose each morning, grabbed a Kleenex, and blew the pitch dust from our noses. Sure, occasionally smoke escaped through the floor registers and left a haze in the house. The house was dry, so much in fact, that headaches sometimes arose with the morning sun.

Modern technology gives us new toys to redefine most every condition. Heat indexes and wind chills are a couple of examples. I ignore that stuff for the most part. It’s cold outside or it’s hot. I have the thermometer that once hung in our kitchen. It hangs over the desk in my office. I read the numbers to find out how cool or hot it is. The rest of the analyses of condition are for younger folks. The truth is that I still go outside and work or run errands without much concern about the “feels like” temperatures.


BED—it’s simply one of the most popular places for creatures. Wild animals construct them in their lairs and nests. My dog Snoop took over a laundry basket in which Amy had placed an old comforter that had been washed. Some unfortunate husbands who’ve managed to get themselves sideways with spouses discover that couches must serve as places where they can lay down their weary and guilty heads.

Two beds were in the room that Jim and I shared. As toddlers, Jim manipulated the side of his until it slid down and then came to my rescue. Later, we had twin beds that were hand-me-downs from parents and their families and friends. Jim and I spent plenty of memorable times lying on those beds. We sweated through the steamy summer nights as we hoped to catch the whisper of a breeze through the window. Restless nights were spent in anticipation of Christmas mornings. We lay in our beds as the measles and mumps and the temperatures that accompanied them tormented our rotund bodies. Mattresses caught the tears that came the first night we tried to sleep after Daddy died.

I had a room to myself the second semester of my freshman year of college. Jim returned home to marry Brenda. My first act was to scoot the two twin bed frames and wire them together. One guy was sent as a possible roommate but decided against it when he saw that one large bed. The mattresses were thin and lumpy, and sometimes they slid away from each other. Still, it was good to have as much room as I wanted during the night.

Four years later, Amy and I were married, and again, I shared a bedroom. The full-sized mattress didn’t offer much room for us, but we learned to sleep together. Somehow we managed to find a rhythm so that when I turned over, Amy did so as well; when Amy crossed the middle of the bed with feet or bottom or pillow, I’d slide her back across the imaginary divide.

At some point, our bed frame was the same that Mother and Daddy had begun housekeeping in the 1940’s. Mother passed on to us the entire bedroom suite. I remember as a little boy waking up some nights after a bad dream. I’d leave Jim asleep and pad my way to my parents’ room. Then I’d ask to sleep with them. Daddy would help me get in the bed, and I’d lie down between them and feel safe. My own kids spent nights in that same bed. Some mornings we’d all lie in that bed and snuggle before beginning the day.

A few years ago, Amy and I moved up to a queen-sized bed. I’d wanted a king-sized one, but the bedroom wasn’t large enough to accommodate it and the rest of our furniture. Because my back was bad, I thought that we needed an extra firm mattress. For years Amy and I struggle with sleep and woke up with bodies that were sore in every joint. I slept with a pillow between my knees since my sophomore year in high school. It was then that I broke my ankle and wore the first of what would be six casts over the years. The pillow took the pressure off of my bony knees.

At some point, Amy put her foot down (instead of in my behind) and demanded that we get a new mattress. She found the perfect one. It has a pillow top that makes the bed even more comfortable. We now sleep more deeply. Best of all is the feel of that bed after a long, hard day. Sinking into it is almost as good as soaking in a Jacuzzi. Each side is molded to fit the curves and crevices of our bodies, and after we find the right spot, both of us quickly fade into unconsciousness

I’ve told Amy that we won’t ever sleep in separate beds. I’m too used to her lying on the right side of the bed. When we are separated for any reason, the nights are long and sleep is fitful. I’m a light sleeper, and she’s a deep one. I hit the floor at least a couple of times to let the dog out and to make those trips to the bathroom. To return to the bed and have Amy lying there beside me is comforting.

Sometimes we sleep so hard that we have to get up to get some rest. We go about our days, Amy going to her office and me pecking at the keyboard. At the end of each cycle, it’s nice to know that we can snuggle again and drift off to pleasant dreams in a comfortable bed.