In case y’all were wondering, it is dog days again. I just went for a 2-mile walk — at 9:30 in the morning — and lost about 4 pounds of water weight from perspiring. I used to sweat, back before I got so sophisticated.
When I was growing up, in Porterdale, we had all kinds of superstitions associated with dog days. Old people — of which I am now one — insisted that dogs contracted rabies during the dog days of August and were constantly warning us that if we got bit by a dog during this time of the summer that we would instantly contract lock-jaw.
I didn’t know exactly what lockjaw was — and still don’t, to be absolutely honest — but I knew that I didn’t want to get it. I think it was stories of rabies and lockjaw, compounded by the combined trauma of watching Old Yeller die and seeing Atticus Finch draw a bead on a rabid cur in “To Kill a Mockingbird” that caused me to be nervous around any canine I encountered during the first 20 years of my life — even Joe Croom’s old hound named Barney.
Another truth that every Southern child knew concerning the dog days of summer is that a sore would never, ever heal — no matter how much Merthiolate or Mercurochrome your mama painted it with. I cannot say for sure whether that axiom holds water. I do know that I was always walking around in summer with skinned knees and stubbed toes and never paid much heed to how long it took any of them to scab over. I enjoyed the freedom of wearing short pants and going barefoot so much that sores and scabs and red medicine were just a part of it. I always dreaded Labor Day arriving, not so much because school started back — I always loved school — but because it meant I had to go back to wearing overalls and brogans for most of the day.
My grandmama insisted that snakes got meaner during the dog days. Snakes fell into the same category as stray dogs for me. I wasn’t going near one at any time of the year, and I knew folks who went so far as to insist that if you didn’t put your right sock — or stocking — on first during this time of year that you were guaranteeing a broken left leg. Like I said, I didn’t wear shoes or socks during the summer — except on Sunday — so I didn’t pay much attention to that foolishness.
Folks don’t pay much attention to dog days anymore. Why should we? We all have central air and can control the climate in our homes. It has been 74 degrees in my living room since June, but please don’t tell Jimmy Carter. Our cars are air-conditioned, too, so the hottest walk we absolutely have to make is from the back door to the car or from the car to the air-conditioned store or shopping mall. Sitting on the porch during the cool of the evening, shelling peas or husking corn, while listening to baseball on the radio is as archaic as college football players playing football for the love of the game and camp meeting, which used to be held at this time of the year, has been moved to the middle of July — or earlier — to accommodate the insane starting dates of the school calendars.
Besides, kids don’t play outside anymore anyway. They sit and stare at computer screens and smart phones and the only muscles that get much exercise are their two thumbs, which, if evolutionists are correct should be huge within a couple of generations.
I suppose I am glad that I have lived to see so much progress in the world. I can assure you that our little mill village house in Porterdale was never 74 degrees during the dog days of August, but I would purely love to spend one more summer Saturday with my mama and daddy and sister on South Broad Street.
I would go for a ride with my daddy “to the country.” We would always wind up in the front yard of an old farmhouse on Rocky Plains Road where an old man would greet Daddy at the car window and roll a half-gallon jar of white liquid out of the bib of his overalls into my daddy’s lap.
On Saturday evenings friends would come over and we would fire up the grill and cook hamburgers or ribs or an occasional steak — if there had been a lot of overtime to work that week — and we would travel to the ice house after supper to get a block of ice which daddy would break up with his hammer and then chip away at with the ice pick and then we would make hand-cranked ice cream.
The magical night might end at the Moonlit Drive-in where we would spread quilts out on the ground and watch the movie on the giant screen. I would always wake up in my own bed the next morning. I’m certain I never made it through a whole movie awake.
Yep, it’s dog days again. Stay away from snakes and stray dogs — but if you decided to grill a steak or make some homemade ice-cream, let me know.