We’re in the middle of the “dog days of summer” right now. It’s those days where it is so hot and humid that you can work up a sweat sitting still. If you leave the A/C at all (and many of us growing up in Youngstown didn’t have A/C) you were sticky and sweaty five minutes after your last bath or shower.
Many of us think of “dog days” as days were all our dogs would do is lay in the shade and pant. And while that is true, and making sure that our dogs and other pets get enough fluid and are NEVER left unattended in a vehicle, the name has nothing to do with the four legged creatures we call pets, but rather one that roams the heavens, the constellation canis major or “The Great Dog”, whose most visible star, Sirius, or the “dog star” rises just before the sun in the period of late July to about mid-August. The term comes from the association between this star and the time of the year that is often the most sultry in many northern countries.
The “dog days” were often those when it felt like you could cut the atmosphere with a knife. A haze seemed to descend on the Mahoning Valley. We could see much of the Mahoning Valley from the second floor back windows of our house. During the “dog days” the features of the Home Savings building, Stambaugh Auditorium, and other landmarks we could see all got kind of soft and fuzzy. When there was no breeze, these were the days of pollution alerts when some people had difficulties breathing.
Those were the days I tried to spend as much time as possible at Borts Pool. Usually the pool was packed, as were all the Youngstown pools. I don’t think I realized then how blessed as kids we were. Most of our parents didn’t have the luxury of an afternoon at the pool. The guys in the factories and mills had it worst. My wife speaks of how her dad would take salt tablets and how his shirts would be stained from sweat after a shift at General Fireproofing. And our moms probably didn’t have it any easier if they had to do housework in a home without A/C.
I know I hated delivering papers on those days, having a canvas paper sack and the newspapers slung over my shoulders, sometimes two if it was a Wednesday paper with lots of ads. My shirt would be drenched by the time I was done and it was everything I could do to keep the papers from getting damp as well.
Those were the days when an ice cold glass of lemonade would taste especially good–probably the nearest thing we had back then to Gatorade. And often back then, it wasn’t from mixes but made with real lemons and plenty of sugar. Probably not the greatest for our teeth, but who was thinking of teeth in that weather!
Sometimes we beat the heat at movie matinees at the Schenley Theater. Theaters advertised their air conditioning, which sometimes may have been more of a draw than the movies! Double features were even better because you could spend a whole afternoon in blissful air conditioning.
The evenings may have been the worst when you tried to get to get to sleep. Often it wouldn’t cool down that much because the humidity held the heat. You might try sleeping on a porch to catch any breeze. We had a fan, but on nights like this, it seemed you just lay there with as little on as possible and prayed for any movement of air to cool you enough to drop off to sleep. There might have been a few hours of early morning where it sort of got comfortable.
I think the only thing that probably got us through sometimes was remembering that it was better than shoveling a foot of snow, and the gray, cold days of winter. And, at least in early August, we weren’t in school!
I’d love to hear your “dog days” memories and how you beat the heat!