Opinion Columns & Blogs

Hottest summer ever, I doubt it

I heard, this past weekend, that “they” say we are about to have one of the hottest summers since “they” started keeping records of weather things. Really? It’s going to be mighty hot if this is to be “one of the hottest summers ever.” It could be the temperatures are going to be some of the highest ever recorded, and then again, maybe not, but I am doubtful it will be one of the hottest summers ever.

You are getting a good deal of age on you if you remember the Georgia summers of 1954 and 1955. They were hot — and dry. Really hot. Really dry. And, Georgians could do nothing about it. That brings me to my point.

In 1954 and 1955, and for all weather recording times prior to the 1950s, if you were a Georgian living in Georgia, and it was hot, you were hot. There were electric fans that blew warm air, cold (really, actually mildly cool) water in the tub, and sleeping on the porch, or trying to sleep on the porch. But, brother, it was still hot!

As a young teenager, I was required to pick cotton along with the other cotton pickers. The days were long, the jars with drinking water, that started off with ice, were tepid at best, usually warm, and you had to “weigh in” at the end of the day.

As they say, “the proof was in the pudding” when you weighed in. One day, when I took time off to visit the bullis vines (wild muscadines or grapes) in the nearby woods, my cotton-picked weight was a paltry 29 pounds. Corporal punishment was administered that night.

I probably did considerably better the next hot day, perhaps three times better, but I’m sure I didn’t pick 100 pounds even on the day immediately after what I was out there to do was explained to me.

These super smart Bostonians wouldn’t know a bullis if they ate one or if one bit them on the leg.

Back to the heat in a moment, but first let me report that my friend, Jerry Wilson (I’ve written before of his subtle and wry sense of humor) had a dog named Bullis. Bullis, of questionable lineage, was a “brindle color” and kinda looked like a ripe scuppernong or muscadine. Incidentally, I couldn’t’ find the word “bullis” in my American Heritage Dictionary, but lots of we Southerners who have suffered through hot Georgia summers sans air conditioning know that bullis is a good word.

Then, I noticed that my dictionary was printed by the Houghton Book Company in Boston. Now I understand why “bullis” was not included. These super smart Bostonians wouldn’t know a bullis if they ate one or if one bit them on the leg.

Now, back to the heat. I worked in a steel mill in Texas in the summer of 1963. The first day I went to the plant, I thought I was entering the bowels of Hades — and I mean that for all it portends. There was one place in the plant where men worked 30 minutes on and 30 minutes off for 8 hours. That is, they actually “worked” for 4 hours a day. This was their schedule because it was 140 degrees where they worked.

Have you ever practiced football, full pads, on an August day for over two hours when it was 95 degrees plus, and you were forbidden to drink any water, but were required to take salt pills after practice because you had “sweated out so much salt?” I have, and lots of folks know I am writing the truth. If you have, you know about hot.

I mentioned air conditioning above. My friends, the invention of air conditioning and the widespread use of it was one of the greatest things that ever happened to the South and Georgia in particular. Every time we write AIR CONDITIONING, we should capitalize it.

We should put a statue to Mr. Carrier on the courthouse squares in all of Georgia’s 159 counties. And, indeed, let Mr. Carrier face the north, because when his invention started taking hold was the time we started competing with our brothers in Boston, New York, Chicago and other northern parts of our great country. Now, most folks would say we are almost as good as they are.

It’s probably going to get hot this summer. Possibly, it could be the hottest average temperature ever recorded. But, it won’t be as hot as it was before the 1960s. If you don’t believe me, talk to someone that’s over 60 years old and, preferably, someone who has picked cotton by hand, because they had to. They’ll know what a hot summer in Georgia used to be.

Larry Walker is a practicing attorney in Perry. He served 32 years in the Georgia General Assembly and presently serves on the University System of Georgia Board of Regents. Email: lwalker@whgmlaw.com.