The long, dog days of summer

Published 9:52 pm Saturday, July 25, 2009

In the past several decades I have written hundreds of columns. As is true with most writers, a few have become favorites. So it is with this one, which I re-read and re-publish in golden memory.

July is well into its place on the calendar and the long, lazy days of a Deep-South summer hold sway in our daily lives. Through a haze of memory I recall those golden hours of childhood: the feel of dewy blades of grass between the toes of bare feet; the sleepy hum of hens in their pen at the bottom of the pear orchard; and the long, twilight evenings that began with supper just before first dark and ended when the skies turned to purple velvet sprinkled with silver.

As the late afternoon sun sank lower, we finished our supper. Then, at a nod from a mother or aunt, we pushed back our chairs. Then, with each of us grabbing a handful of Grandmother’s homemade tea cakes from the linen pillowcase in the kitchen safe drawer, we ran down the long hall to the front porch, with our boy cousin leading the way. Out the screen door we flew, letting it bang shut behind us, and down the front steps, where we took our seats on the boards still warm from the heat of the day.

Email newsletter signup

First dark had fallen. Locusts rasped their evening song from the ancient oak and lightning bugs flickered golden through the wisteria vine our great-uncle had shaped into a small tree and hovered over the briar rose hedge edging the empty field between their grandmother’s house and that of the neighbor.

The grown-ups made their way outside and sat in the green-painted wooden rocking chairs and in the swing at the end of the porch. They rocked, the chairs creaked, the chains of the swing squeaked and their voices rose and fell softly in the rhythm of the summer night.

We left the steps to chase lightning bugs around the yard, dropping our catches into the boy’s jar and clapping the lid back on it before the insects could escape. After each catch he held the jar aloft for us to admire the glow.

A street lamp was mounted on an old wooden pole near the house and there the bullbats flew at night, swooping and darting at insects attracted by the light. Sometimes the children threw rocks at them, but the grownups always sternly reprimanded them “to leave those bullbats alone, they eat the mosquitoes.”

The children have long been grownups, with grandchildren of their own, and two of the four are gone. They learned long ago that bullbats are really nighthawks or nightjars or whippoorwills. But there was a time, a very long time ago, when they were part of the magic of our Black Belt summers.