Friday, July 22, 2011

Horse-power and heat

Our week-long experiment with temperatures in the 100-degree range and no rain ended this morning with a few flashes of lightning, some thunder and a nice shower to water the grass. The daytime highs, by Sunday, might even drop into the 80s again.

The most noticeable souvenir of the hot spell is brown grass --- not unusual this time of year, but no brown was in sight a week ago. Now I suppose I'll have to mow the front yard, which had purposely been left a little shaggy until moisture returned.


The photo here of "the gang" was taken during a July sometime in the early 1930s, when my grandparents' farm house in English Township usually was full of company, but there was no air conditioning --- no electricity, either, for that matter; and no running water. Imagine that on a 100-degree day.

The riders were all cousins (from left) Louise Riley aboard Queen, my mother (in the hat) and Lessie Riley aboard Daisy, Uncle Richard Miller aboard Charley and Lawrence Tharp aboard Coley. They're standing around in front of the big south barn, where the stables were located. The equally big north barn was used for other purposes.

Louise, Lessie and Lawrence were city kids --- from suburbs of Detroit --- and looked upon Iowa as the wild west. The Rileys visited every summer; I'm not sure how often Lawrence came along.

You can get a better look at the crew here (from left) Louise, my mother, Lessie, Lawrence and Richard. I'm not sure what Lawrence has in his mouth. Bubble gum? He looks like trouble, but wasn't.

Louise's and Lessie's parents were Wilford "Chief" Riley and his wife, my grandmother's niece, Katherine (McCorkle) Riley. Both were originally from Superior, Nebraska, but had moved to Michigan and "Chief" was called that because he was the founding chief of police in the Detroit suburb of Allen Park. He remained chief for so long that when he finally retired, a school was named in his honor.

Katherine and the Chief, during the Depression, operated something of a halfway house in Allen Park for young nephews and cousins from Iowa and Nebraska who were having trouble finding work. Although times were hard everywhere, there were jobs to be had in the steel mills and manufacturing plants of Motor City and Wilford was well-connected. A few years after this photo was taken, Uncle Richard moved to Allen Park, too, and found work in the mills.

My mother used to talk about these summer visits fondly --- and also about how the family dealt with a houseful of company and extreme heat. Cots were set up on the porches and under the trees and made up for the girls; the boys just slept on blankets in the grass --- everyone moved outside. This was considered to be lots of fun, my mother said, and quite often younger members of the family slept outside even when  heat didn't force the issue.

For some reason this week, I've been waking up in the middle of the night in the air conditioned inside and thinking about how hot it was outside. I wonder if I'd have slept better outside. And what would the neighbors have thought?

The photo below, taken a couple of months earlier, is of my mother again --- and a peony. Since my peonies always flop all over everything when they bloom, I was interested to see how carefully this one was propped up.

1 comment:

Ed said...

Send some of that rain my way. It got close enough this morning I could smell it but we didn't get a drop and this makes our 22nd or 23rd consecutive day without rain now.