Monday, September 21, 2009

Memory Monday: Stormy Weather

(No, this is not an account of teen angst.)

Many things in northeast Texas (aka Texoma) were not terribly different from Southern California, and climate was one of them. Neither area had “real seasons”: hot to brutally hot summers and mild winters that often lingered in the 60- and 70-degree range. A 70º Christmas was no big surprise in either state, though a white Christmas would have been.

And yet there were some perceptible differences. The quality of the heat was somehow different, with San Bernardino’s somewhat higher humidity taking the edge off the searing heat. And San Bernardino would only have a handful of days over 100º during the year. Seymour would have 100º-plus days for weeks on end and often made the national news as the hottest point in the US on a given day.

My only experience in California with Texas-type heat had been our trips to Southern California’s “real” deserts (as opposed to the built-up, cultivated areas of the desert cities). The phrase often uttered about dry climates – “At least it’s dry heat” – is valid only so far up the thermometer scale; I’d say it stops being true at 105º. 105º and up is always miserable. Although you don’t immediately wilt every time you go outside the way you do here in swampy Northern Virginia at a “mere” 90º, you are forced into what I can only describe as a “slow motion” existence. (I’ve always thought that Texans’ slow-moving, slow-talking ways were a survival adaptation to this brain-frying heat.) Band marching practice on borderline days was pure torture. We could consume large amounts of water without having to take bathroom breaks. Marching competitions on bad days meant that we had to arm ourselves with salt tablets.

Then there was tornado season. I had been through “near hurricane conditions” in California, so I wasn’t a total wind wimp. Or maybe I was too oblivious and over-confident in that stupid teenage way to be properly alarmed by those tornado warnings that would flash across the bottom of the TV screen. Thing was, Seymour had never had a direct hit from a tornado; apparently its location in a sort of depression in the ground let it escape tornado touch-downs coming from the usual direction. But there were people in Seymour who had lived in neighboring areas that had been hit, and there was no mistaking the extra tension they felt each time a tornado warning was issued.

I remember only one really bad wind storm in Seymour, and it was a doozy – the dreaded dust storm, one of the most unpleasant experiences ever. Our doors and windows were sealed shut as tightly as possible, and still a fine dust managed to seep through and cover everything. This was one of those times when I was grateful that we had so few possessions, grateful even for the fact that our flooring was cheap linoleum – at least it was easy to clean. We had to wash everything – walls, floors, furniture, clothing, linens, and every item in our cupboards and closets. Sometimes two or three times. The kitchen walls were the worst – the grime bonded with the deposit of cooking oil vapors to form a dark brown goo.

We did have some cold weather, even in the fall; I remember sitting in our wool band uniforms high in the bleachers at some football games and shivering from the frosty air. I remember only one experience with anything like ice or snow. It was ice, or more correctly, freezing rain. There was a thick, hard, slippery layer of it covering everything. No one could go anywhere until it melted. We had to laugh at a friend’s description of going to check on an elderly neighbor who didn’t have a phone – she had to slip, slide, and scoot all the way over to her neighbor's house on her bottom.

I complain a lot about our swamp-like weather here in Northern Virginia, but I’ve learned to be grateful for it. I’m also grateful that my farming ancestors stuck it out through that blistering North Texas heat.

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