Jim Hamilton

It’s summertime in the Ozarks.

Weather forecasters are doing their best to scare us with daily predictions of temperatures in the high 90s, with “no relief in sight,” as if we’ve never lived through an Ozarks summer.

Most of them are young folks. Few, if any, ever spent a summer in the hayfields or on a construction job. Most have always had air conditioning in their homes, cars and workplaces. I don’t know if they really understand “hot.”

A crew is at work right now in a recently harvested wheat field across the road loading trailers with square bales of straw. I guarantee those guys understand “hot” better than any fresh-faced TV meteorologist, but they’ll be out there until dusk.

Once upon a time I could have been among them. I couldn’t do it now, but in my youth I tossed unnumbered square bales onto wagons and into the peaks of sweltering-hot barn lofts. Wish I could do it, now. Wish I still had the strength and stamina of an 18-year-old.

Wishful thinking won’t make me 18 again, but I thank God for every hour I toiled under the sun as a young man. Every day in the hayfields or digging ditches put me a little closer to starting college — closer to the luxuries I enjoy today.

Long before I earned a single dollar for filling a neighbor’s hay barn, I understood “hot” in the hayfields of home — and in our house and barn, as well.

I’m spoiled, today, by air conditioning in my car, truck and house. No matter the heat outside, instant relief is at hand, and at this stage of life (retirement) I can seek a cooling respite anytime I choose.

Not so, when I was a boy on the farm. Dad — not the weatherman — determined what I would do on any given summer day, and the heat that made working most unpleasant was ideal for drying newly mown hay. Day after day under the sun, that was summer in the Ozarks of my youth.

Of course, every hour wasn’t spent in the hayfields; we went fishing a lot, too, but seldom were we in the house. That’s where it was really hot — there and in the milk barn at day’s end. What little respite we could find was in front of little electric fans.

The only air conditioning I encountered as a boy was when I went with Mom to a supermarket in town — usually a Consumers. It always hit me like an arctic blast. Too cold to be of much comfort.

Neither Mom nor Dad wanted air conditioning in our cars. Wing vent windows were just as good, and when I bought my first brand-new car in 1974 — a Chevy Nova — I eschewed air conditioning as a waste of money.

I was younger then. It may be a luxury, but I don’t want to be without it today.

Another such luxury many families took for granted when I was a boy was hot and cold running water. At times we had only well water drawn with a rope and bucket, and at times running water, but only cold. One thing I missed during summer vacation was the showers I could take after gym class.

Coming in from the hayfield in summer, our only way to rinse off the dirt and chaff was sponge bath, a tub in the back yard after dark, or occasionally a quick dip in Greasy Creek a couple of miles down the road. Most often, though, it was just a wet washcloth. Other than on Sunday morning, we had no one to offend anyway, other than one another.

That was summer in the Ozarks, when I was a boy.

These days, though, a shower is my best friend — maybe even more so than air conditioning. I love to work outside in the sun and come in hot and grimy, then shower it all away — sometimes two or three times a day. Martha says she doesn’t mind doing laundry (another chore much easier than when I was a boy).

That’s summer in the Ozarks. No matter how scary the weather folk make 90-plus sound, it’s all good today. I remember when it wasn’t.

Jim Hamilton, columnist and former editor of the Buffalo Reflex, is among several Ozarks writers featured in issue nine of “Elder Mountain: Journal of Ozarks Studies,” published in September by Missouri State University-West Plains and edited by Dr. Phillip Howerton, professor of English. His latest essay collection, published by Cornerpost Press in West Plains is “Ozarks RFD, Selected Essays 2010-2015.” Request a copy by contacting the author at jhamilton000@centurytel.net.

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