As summertime begins to go into its hottest period of discomfort for southern man and beast alike, I’m reminded of the days when air conditioning was only found at J.C. Penney’s in town and would give you an ice cream headache due to not being use to it. It also reminds me of one hot July night back in the early ’60s when Cousin Tom received a phone call at four thirty in the morning from a neighbor down the road. The old white frame farmhouse that he and Mollie had shared for a lifetime didn’t have all the modern day conveniences that we have, and it was always during the “dog days of summer” that they would have a few nights that were not very pleasant. That night was one of those and Tom had spent the night turning his pillow on a regular basis to locate the cool side to rest his head on.
There was no air conditioning, no central units and the only way they had to move the hot and humid air around the house was with a GE oscillating fan that had been in the family since their now-grown children were babies. With all the windows pushed to the top of their sashes, you could hear the frogs outside croaking in a melody that seemed to make the air even more stagnant. Tom had even moved down to the foot of the bed to get some air from the open window. The sheets of the bed had felt like they had “come in case” just like tobacco hanging in the barn does before you strip it to sell.
However, around three o’clock, the early morning air had cooled enough for the old man to finally get to sleep. But with the ringing of the huge black dial phone in the hall, his sleep had been broken and he headed to the phone stand table to answer what he assumed would be bad news, which is usually the case that time of the morning.
With a trembling voice he said, “Hello?”
Immediately on the other end of the line, Tom’s neighbor Burney Leary spoke with a very loud voice saying, “Your dog has barked all night and I want you to make him stop!”
Now fully awake, Tom remained totally calm and answered Burney in a low voice, “I’m sorry Burney, thank you for calling and bringing that to my attention. Good-bye.”
After the call and explaining what all the commotion was about to Mollie, Tom went back to bed and slept a fairly restful sleep. But at four thirty he got back up and called Burney, and when Burney answered in somewhat of a frightened voice, Tom said, “You know Burney, I don’t have a dog. Goodnight.”
Much like Tom and Burney’s long hot night confrontation during the summer’s “dog days,” those hottest and sultry days of summer get a lot of credit for strange things happening. They usually fall in the northern hemisphere between early July and early September, but the actual date is often open for debate. “The Old Farmer’s Almanac” sets the date for Dog Days as the 40 days beginning July 3 and ending August 11. It says it coincides with the ancient helical (at sunrise) rising of the Dog Star Sirius. The ancients believed that the star was the cause for hot and sultry weather. They also believed it was an evil time when dogs grew mad, the seas boiled and man turned feverish.
I’m not to sure when the Dog Star rises around here, but I do know that most folks call the last of July to about the middle of August the Dog Days in Tennessee. It is usually about the hottest time of the year for us. Most dogs during this time become lazy to avoid overheating and man seems to do the same thing. If you work outside, you can become “dog tired” during the Dog Days from the heat. You also learn really fast during this time of the year that you can drive a car with two fingers due to a hot steering wheel and don’t put sunglasses on too fast after first getting in a hot car if they have been setting on the dash.
There are some good things to do during this hot time of the year. Check out a local Tennessee farm for some great farm raised fresh produce. During the Dog Days there’s nothing like a good fresh Tennessee tomato sandwich or honey straight from a farmer’s bee stand. Your local farmers markets are really going strong right about now, so be sure to make a visit to one.
Avoid the Dog Star and stay cool. Dog Days will be over before long and fall is just around the corner, and so is the time for some good Tennessee cider and sorghum. I’ve noticed the sorghum fields are growing good right now and it looks like this year could be a good one for both man and beast.
Pettus L. Read writes for the Tennessee Farm Bureau Federation. He may be contacted by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org