published Sunday, July 15th, 2012

My Life: Season of discontent heats up in summer


by Jan Galletta

My love/hate relationship with summer has me feeling schizophrenic these days. I'm simply more even-tempered in other seasons, my moods far less mercurial.

The pure promise of spring, for example, makes me hum merry tunes all day long. I just love its annual riot of green blades rising, baby birds and those "mud-luscious" puddles a fabled poet described. In spring, my spirits soar like the kites I fly with my 4-year-old granddaughter.

But by midsummer, the new windsock I hung in May looks bedraggled and, anyway, there's no breeze to stir its fraying ribbons.

Winter is my season of greatest content, a serene time I spend in quiet, indoor contemplation or, sometimes, celebrating snow by catching flakes on my tongue and sledding my side yard's gentle slope.

Yet, come July, the powdery snowballs I previously stashed in the freezer have hardened to jagged, icy lumps. On a coat rack by the door, my down parka hangs as a mocking reminder that I can't escape wearing a bathing suit somewhere pretty soon.

In fall, it's all impossibly azure skies, delicious woodsmoke smells and Technicolor foliage.

But, so often, in my case, the rising college football players I followed in autumn have been suspended for bad behavior in August and won't be returning to the roster. The daily weather, inviting good snuggling back then, delivers only sweaty-body tangles in summer's dog days.

Still, there is much I love about summer, such as schooling fish that fiercely hit top-water plugs like there's no tomorrow and willow-fly hatches that mean an angler's every cast lands a bream.

Every firefly I spy reminds me of a favorite story a former co-worker once recounted, about the grandmother who let her take baths, illuminated only by the lightning bugs she'd captured in a jelly jar.

It gives me great pleasure to cut flowers for a table arrangement or snip herbs for a kitchen bouquet, raiding plants I've raised from seed. I feel thrifty, self-reliant -- even virtuous -- filling pails and baskets with produce I've grown in our garden.

But when summer temps rise, I morph into a monster, part indolent slug, part snarling beast.

Hornets dive-bomb my head when I walk past loaded fruit trees. Mosquitoes, not fish, account for my bites, and humidity expands my hair like one of those cheesy, play rock gardens that kids add water to grow.

Summers didn't used to seem so hot to me, even when I was growing up in Florida and my home had no air-conditioning. By day, I swam in the ocean with friends; at night, my siblings and I slept on pallets stretched out on the living room's cool, terrazzo stone floor.

Since I'm now 631/2 years old, I can't blame my heat-related misery and mood swings on the hot flashes and hormone shifts that plagued me in my 40s.

But it was sadly typical of my life and times just now when I looked in the mirror recently and realized that, in the course of a single day, I'd alienated (maybe permanently) my best friend, greatly angered family members and disappointed my church pals by failing to perform my one appointed duty. Before nightfall, I'd also broken a costly vase, lost a $5 bill and spilled a full glass of wine.

In no time, I'll be the age my most eccentric aunt was when I started visiting her in Alabama as a designated caretaker. Maybe then I'll acquire her heat-tolerance, too.

She kept the pilot light burning year-round in her tiny three-room house and had painted all its windows shut, supposedly for security. In that stifling interior were candles that had never been lit but were heat-melted into drippy formless blobs.

Auntie liked it sweltering, and when I proposed prying open her windows, she chided me for a metabolism inferior to hers. When I tried to introduce a window air conditioner, she got downright adversarial -- but perhaps, chillingly prophetic, too. She said, "Don't bother about me, Missy, I'm fine.

"You should worry instead about yourself, because if you don't change your bossy, mean ways, you're going where it's a whole lot hotter."

Email Jan Galletta at jangalletta@yahoo.com.

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