The Purgatory Time of Year

The Purgatory Time of Year July 20, 2019


July is the hottest month.

July is the month where you’d rather be anywhere else but here; you’d rather it be any time of year but July. July is hell, but temporary, so I suppose that July is purgatory.

Living in the Ohio Valley in July is like living inside the body of some feverish demon. The air smells both sulfurous and organic, somehow. The ground feels warm on bare feet, and it’s nearly always swampy. After evening rain, sometimes, you can see the earth steaming– and in the morning, sometimes, you can see the earth steaming again, from the dew.

I don’t remember so much steam in the summers when I was a child, but maybe that was because we lived in Columbus. I do have memories of our trips to West Virginia for family reunions– there, in the mountains, under the pines, the earth is constantly wet. Every morning there’s a fog and the trees drip– you wake up thinking it’s raining, then open the blinds to clouds on the ground and a clear day overhead.

It’s relatively cool in down the mountains as well, and almost chilly at night. I look longingly at weather forecasts for Marlinton and Seebert. I imagine what it would be like to have a car and gas money. Four hours, and I’d be swimming in the Greenbriar with all of my clothes on. Another hour and I’d be at the lake, the artificial lake they have to re-dig every so often because of sediment from all the fish, at Watoga State park. When we were little, we used to hike to the bottom of the dam they built to make that lake. On dry days it was just a wall– but on wet days, water came over the spillway in a great cataract. It was fun to walk underneath and get good and soaked. We promised each other that we would never tell grown-ups about our special retreat under the spillway, because it sounded like something they’d try to make us stop.

I don’t think we realized that the spillway was a man-made construction– I think that we all imagined it was is a natural cliff formation, the kind of sanctuary a brutal grown-up in a children’s movie would bulldoze to build a casino.

Every so often we’d go tubing– slipping helplessly downriver, lying on top of a big black rented inner tube that looked like a chocolate doughnut. In dry years, the Greenbriar was shallow and noisy, and we scraped our bottoms on the rocky riverbed. In rainy years, it was deep and alarmingly fast. I suppose it wasn’t the safest pastime, but we survived. My uncle would tie a t-shirt around a tree near our cabin, so we’d know when to pull our inner tubes ashore, otherwise I suppose we would  have ended up floating down to the New River to the Kanawah and then to the Ohio, which runs right by where I live now.

You could usually see clear to the bottom of the Greenbriar– shale, velvety with algae and dotted with snails. But the Ohio is opaque rust all the way down. If you went tubing on the Ohio, you’d probably get lockjaw or a bad rash.

I don’t think there’s a spillway for getting wet in this town, and the pool is too hot to walk to in severe heat. Money’s too tight with the high electric bills anyway.

I’ve made idle plans for a few different summer activities– the earliest bus to Robinson and then an Uber into “real” Pittsburgh, to the zoo and the giant playground, then an Uber all the way back to Ohio in case we miss the elusive Ohio bus back. We could call that a homeschooling field trip, since she’s been studying animals and habitats.  We could take another field trip to the children’s museum and the Phipps conservatory. But I can’t afford such luxury– and anyway, it’s too hot.

I plug in the portable air conditioner, which sits on top of a chair and drains into a bucket. I close the pocket doors of the dining room and seal myself off like an anchoress between the air conditioner and two electric fans. Rosie and I can’t watch television in here, because it’s loud as an airport runway. We make up stories with her action figures.

They say the heat wave will be over on Monday. There’ll be a nice thunderstorm and a few days with temperatures in the 70s. I’ll shake out the cushions and take Rosie to Dollar Days at the pool. And there are just eleven more days until August, and then before you know it it’s September.

It’s only a matter of getting through this purgatory time of year, when the earth steams and I long to be in the mountains and the city all at once– riding an inner tube down a sparkling river or spending the day at the zoo. The sultry cool of the Appalachian mountains or the crisp cool of an air conditioned museum. Anywhere but where I am, cloistered in the dining room, listening to fans roar.

Thankfully, purgatory never lasts forever.

(image via Pixabay) 



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