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Friday, July 22, 2011

Summers and Ice Picks

The temperature hit 99° as the oscillating fan made another lap past me and my sister. We had just finished our chores for the day and the only thing on our minds was getting in the river for a cool dip. That is, if you consider water temperatures in the 80's a cool dip. It was more like getting into bath water at this time of day.

The sun had cleared the trees on the east side of the river and was basically baking the water that rolled slowly downstream. The river was always very low at that time of year. Low enough that you could walk from one side to the other without going completely under.

The current positioning of the sun put us in a bit of a "tweener" time as far as going swimming. We would have to wait a couple of hours before the sun crossed the great divide and cast the appropriate amount of shadows on the water so we could swim without fear of sunstroke.

We did not have air conditioning, a comfort that, as and adult, I'm not sure I could live without. But back then air conditioning would have been an extravagant luxury. Luxury for us was having fans. We lived with the windows open and roughly 10 of those luxury fans spread throughout the small two story house, moving what little air they could. My sister and I would spend this time downstairs where it was moderately cooler or, if there was even a modicum of a breeze, outside under a tree.

My father had taken to collecting empty plastic tubs of varying size, especially if they had lids. This was a time when Tupperware ruled the universe, and that was definitely a luxury we could not afford, so we used the poor man's Tupperware. Empty Country Crock margarine bowls, I Can't Believe It's Not Butter bowls, Cool Whip bowls. You get the point. He would use these for any and all purposes, but his favorite use for them was to fill them with water and put them inside our small downstairs freezer where we kept our meat and vegetables frozen.

My father was also an early riser, a trait that he somehow handed down to me, and one that I wish he wouldn't have. Every morning he would wake up and, with great skill and little care for volume, remove these lumps of ice from their plastic containers into the kitchen sink. If you've never been scared out of a deep sleep by the loud KER-THUMP of several large chunks of ice being dropped into a metal sink, then brother, you've never lived. And if the first noise didn't wake you from dreaming of the prom queen, what happened next would curl your hair.

Dad had an ice pick. There was nothing special about this ice pick other than it was HIS ice pick. This wasn't handed down though generations. It wasn't a present from some dignitary nor was it made from some special alloy. Frankly, if my memory holds true, and it does, it was kind of rusted and had a round wooden handle. That's all. An ice pick.

Every morning, and mind you, this was EVERY morning, including weekends, he would take his ice pick and stab at these ice blocks repeatedly until he had every piece of ice exactly the size he wanted. To further the prolonged ritual, and the noise, he would then grab handfuls of these chunks of ice and drop them, from what had to be head height, into his Igloo cooler full of his beer and topped off with his lunch.

A rite of passage in our house was being old enough to use the ice pick to chop the ice for him. These special occasions were punctuated with the a barrage of  "That's not small enough" or "You're making them too small, they'll melt faster" or the even more enjoyable "Don't punch a hole in my sink or I'll kick your ass".

On these especially hot days when we were waiting for the sun to get low enough to enjoy swimming, my sister and I would go down to the freezer and grab a couple of these plastic bowls and, like the children of tribesmen, having had the history of our culture handed down through the generations, drop these chunks into the sink, from the appropriate height of course, and grab the ice pick, reminding each other not to punch a hole in the sink or we'd have to kick our own ass.

We would take these small pieces, some in a glass with sweet tea, the rest in the now empty containers, and go outside under the tree and eat them or let them melt on us as we fought off the heat of a mid-western summers day.

The U. S. is going through a heat wave as I write this and, as I'm sitting here in my office, air conditioning blowing its sensational coolness around me, I can't help but long for a time when my only deadline was the sun passing a climb of trees and the ice pick standing at the ready to bring me a cool treat.

Where's an ice pick and an empty tub of Country Crock when you need it? It's been a while and I need to try my hand at not getting my ass kicked.

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