How hot is it?
A city feller stopped at a country cafe for a meal. While he waited with his sweet tea, an old timer strolled by. “Mind if I sit a spell with you?” Welcoming the company, the city feller said “Be my guest” and prepared to hear some local yarns. He was not disappointed.
The old timer unfurled a bandana handkerchief and wiped his forehead, face, and neck. “Hot enough for ya?” City feller nodded. “Summers get mean in these parts,” he continued. “I thought I could get by farming, with 18 inches of rain a year. But I was out plowing my alfalfa field on the day we got it. Washed my tractor into a ditch. I never did find my plow.” City feller nodded.
Old timer continued, “But that was a couple years ago. The last few years, not a drop of rain! None since that toad-strangler! I got another plow, planted my alfalfa, and only a dozen plants came up in the whole field. Dried up at five inches tall. Grasshoppers ate 'em.” City feller listened.
“And it got hot. Man, did it get hot! My hens were layin' hard-boiled eggs. Cows were givin' hot cocoa. Trees pulled up roots and went in search of dogs to pee on 'em.” City feller kept a straight face.
“The birds had to use pot holders to pick up worms, and then hang 'em in the trees until they were cool enough to eat. The flies fell out of the air like rain drops: heat stroke, we figured. The ladies carried umbrellas when they went out, to keep dead flies out of their hair.” City feller nodded.
“Some folks used to eat their hotdogs and hamburgers raw, then go outside. In twenty minutes the meat would cook in their stomachs! But I never tried that.” City feller shook his head, agreeing.
“My neighbor thought he was goin' to be all right with a good crop of corn down in the creek bottom, until it got so hot that all the corn popped and flew downwind to my place. My dairy cows saw that white stuff and thought it was a blizzard of snow. No joke! Half of them froze to death, and the others gave ice cream for the next week. I tell you, that ice cream was a blessing!” City feller kept a straight face. He had heard similar tales before.
But the old timer went on. “That's when my land really dried up. My soil is clay, see. Cracked so wide, I didn't dare lose another tractor tryin' to cross the field. And it got worse. The clay kept shrinking. Fields got smaller and smaller. Finally all I had left of my whole farm was this here lump I brought with me” and reaching into a pocket in his overalls, he brought out a fist-sized chunk of hard-baked soil.
Just then, the city feller's chicken-fried steak arrived, and the old timer excused himself to spin his yarns for another tableful of tourists.
How hot was it? How dry was it? Weather on the great plains tends toward extremes, and there's a long tradition of stretching the hard facts into tall tales that can at least add some wry humor to the hardship. But this summer has set records for heat and drought which some climate scientists fear may be the beginnings of a New Normal.
How hot was it where you live? Did it match or break records from previous years? What did you do to stay cool?
How dry was it? Bartlesville, where I live in NE Oklahoma, depends on a watershed in SE Kansas. While other parts of Oklahoma got some heavy rains, we have suffered persistent drought that dried our reservoirs down to barely 50%. City government declared Stage 3 Drought conditions that closed public pools and splash pads and cut outdoor watering to just one day a week. We saved water from our showers and kitchen sinks to keep our tomatoes and okra alive! Finally a few heavy rains in mid July eased the situation. But what will the rest of the summer bring? And next year?
The experience was a “heads up” to how we might have to garden in the future. Alternatives to lush lawns are looking more and more attractive. Xeriscape, anyone?
The quoted examples come from oral tradition, especially a compilation of Mary Sweet and Chuck Larkin's yarns shared on the Storytell listserv years ago, and saved by Richard Marsh. Thanks Richard for passing them on!
Which ones have you heard?