Fifth Wednesday Special
For over a month, two themes warred for my favor to become this Fifth Wednesday Special. A third one later appeared. It displaced the other two. You won’t read any of them. You may thank one of Mother Nature’s very hot July days for this particular special. Please read carefully. Two hot days, almost 60 years apart, are the mere backdrops. I’m really writing about something else I want to share with you now, so you can think about it, this very summer. Other topics can, must, wait.
A Hot Summer Day, July, 1961
I’ll never forget the stark, sheer look of terror I saw on Dad’s face when he turned around on the tractor and saw, I thought, some horrible impending calamity just behind me. It was his face, but it was at the same time a terrible skeletal death’s mask rictus. Instantly, I spun around. No funnel cloud. No swarm of angry wasps. No anything. Turning back around, I realized that the terror had to be me, ME! Dad had by this time used our tractor’s hand clutch and brakes to stop, and backed slightly. He curtly, very out of character for him, ordered me to disconnect the slide, and get up on the tractor. I did what Dad said, though it was senseless nonsense to me.
We had been doing unbelievably well, so far that day, using our slide to pick up hay for Walter Lathrum. Dad drove the tractor, fast, and butted the front of the slide against each bale. I reached down, grabbed the bale, stacked it, and reached for the next bale in a single fluid motion. I was euphoric at how well, how quickly, we were doing our work. It gave Walter, his sons, and a grandson, working elsewhere, the first-time opportunity for TWO crews to get hay bales to his hay barn. It had, until Dad spoiled it, felt like my heart and whole body were going at super-fast speed. And it was especially good to be back haying again. I had just spent six weeks away from hard work, as one of the only 20 chosen Iowa high school students at a National Science Foundation intense genetics, biology and ecology course, at the level of college juniors and seniors.
I knew something was wrong, with me, when I had trouble pulling the loose pin on the slide. The easy climb onto the tractor was almost more than I could manage, but I did, somehow. Dad told me to hang onto the fender, tight, and he took off. I concentrated with all my might to hold on, as I was in imminent danger of collapse, of falling, without a tight grip. I heard Dad mention sunstroke. As we went, I looked at where we had been collecting bales, and I felt the immense heat. That tiny hay field was chock full of bales. It was completely surrounded by trees. They were unmoving, without the slightest breeze to stir them. There was not a cloud in the sky. The sun was shining relentlessly. When we arrived at Walter’s buckeye tree, Walter’s father, Davy, came down there, as swiftly as he, a very old man, could. He knew something was wrong, very wrong. By this time, Dad had helped me loosen my grip on the tractor fender, and had somehow gotten me off the tractor.
I was very grateful for old Davy’s presence with me the rest of that hot, long, summer day. There was a slight, very slight, breeze under the shade of the tree. Davy kept reminding me to take a sip of water from out of the water jug that Dad had left when he went to join Walter and the rest in their haying.
It felt good to have Davy so watchful that afternoon. He listened to my breathing. He didn’t tell me, but I knew Davy was watching for coma, failure to drink, or other indications of a need for immediate hospitalization. I spent a whole lot of time that day thinking about friends and neighbors. Our small family of four were friends and neighbors of the entire, large Lathrum clan. They all, through the many years, had done a whole lot for us. Our small family had done a whole lot for them. Dad and I were very much on the wrong end of the small haying help they did for us, compared to the large amount of haying we did for them. That was irrelevant. Every one of them was a dear friend, and neighbor helping neighbor was what was more important.
My experience in 1961 soon produced surprises. For the rest of the summer, and fall, I was weakened, and barely able to do any work at all. I hid that fact from everyone else. Partial incapacity, for a while, was an annoying fact of life. I heard, and it is confirmed by what I have read, that I would always be susceptible to another episode later in life. From the study I have done, I’ve also learned that what I experienced was not sun stroke. Nor was it heat stroke, a slightly different but still life-threatening condition. It was heat exhaustion. In the years since, I’ve had many, many people tell me they have had sun stroke, or heat stroke, and how bad it was. In every case, so far, I’ve heard from them a description of heat exhaustion, not of heat stroke or sun stroke. That’s okay. Even mere heat exhaustion is bad, very bad.
Want to learn more? Any good dictionary will tell you a lot about the three conditions. So will most self-help medical books.
A Hot Summer Day, July, 2020
Saturday, July 25, 2020 was an exceptionally hot day. I did a whole lot of work that had to be done that morning. I did it, despite the excessive heat. By 11 a.m., I knew I was too hot, dehydrated, and euphoric. I kept working, in the sun, and tried to get hydrated and cool. By 11:30, I knew success had eluded me. I was in the initial stage of heat exhaustion. I foolishly didn’t walk away from what I was doing, and go quickly to my air conditioned home. I kept working, and I kept a 12 noon appointment, sort of. Arriving there, I told distant relatives that I was in the initial stage of heat exhaustion, I could not load up some shelving purchased, and I could not take away any of their garage sale leftovers, as I had promised at 8:00 that morning. I was headed immediately home, to air conditioning and bed, to cool down and recover.
I was soon very glad that I was in the presence of family, real family, although my father had been only a cousin of their mother. Despite the distant relationship, Betty May and Glen Stephenson had always been family to me. Their three children proved it, too, that day. I was urged to go home, NOW. Everything would be taken care of. The shelving would be delivered. They’d deliver whatever good leftovers they could. They did.
Two hours later, I awoke, still euphoric, a worrisome condition. I happened to walk to the home of Terry and Pam Kerr, neighbors and friends. Their son and daughter-in-law had had a sale that morning. Terry had seen an especially good item that did not sell, and had asked for it to give to me. Having already spotted it, and not until then knowing where it came from, I immediately drove to the son’s home, and thanked the son and wife for their generosity. For the rest of Saturday I thought much about family, and that true family is as family does, without regard for the closeness or distance of blood relationship. And I was also thankful for many people, including the Kerrs, who have chosen to be friends with me. My close brush with another case of heat exhaustion has given me much food for thought. I hope it has given you the same as well.
On Sunday, I hoped for at least eight hours without rain, which was threatening, to do all the work needed to put a driveway full of items in the garage. I got only four hours before rain came down. I had recovered enough to get only the most urgent things inside. When I get back to the task, I will find some things ruined. Well, that’s life. I have some mighty nice, unexpected things because of good family, and good neighbors. And Mother Nature has blessed our community with a gentle, much needed rain. Best of all, I am well satisfied, and deeply grateful, in ways I could not have imagined two days ago.