When I was a little girl, by August it seemed the days would be forever hot, and school would never get back in session. I started to dream about school: Seeing all my friends, the books, the smell of fresh sharpened pencil, a brand new box of Crayola’s and brand-spanking clean tablets. I loved school and everything about August seemed to shout that autumn was almost here.
I never heard the phrase, “Dog days of summer,” until I got old, like Mom, but I knew right away what it meant: August. When it was that hot, nobody wanted to do anything except find some shade and hope for a breeze just like an old dog lying around with barely enough energy to scratch himself, I reached down and scratched a mosquito bite on the back of my leg, while I read the last of my Weekly Reader Summer Book Club books.
I hardly even wanted to eat, except maybe tomatoes from the garden, or cold macaroni salad, and of course ice cream; but I could eat ice cream anytime, no matter what the weather. I went to bed at night in shortie pajamas and no covers, even though that was a little scary on account of that rat story Mom told me, just so I would keep my room clean. Half-way through the night, I was reaching for the covers, ’cause one thing you can count on in August: the nights cool off the day.
Lots of nights I got woke up by a thunderstorm. That was beautiful. The old willow tree outside my bedroom window looked like a witch-woman waving in the night sky, whipping around like I imagined wailing and gnashing of teeth was gonna look like when the end of the world happened, with lightning bolts lighting up everything to show me all those black clouds rolling around in the sky. Sometimes I peered at those clouds hard to see if Jesus was on his way.
Driving along to church in August the oat fields looking like Vickie’s blond hair, just waving in the breeze like waves on a lake, then the fields of wheat all dark amber waves, just like that song we sang in school. Sometimes a bad thunderstorm would beat down a field right before harvest time and Dad said how sorry he was for that farmer, all that cash just beaten to the ground, and he’d hold his chin in his hand, and look far away in the distance, like he was thinking up a solution to the woes of mankind, especially those particular to farmers.
Dad showed me how to tell when the wheat was ready for harvest. We walked out to the field and then he broke off a shaft of wheat or oats and rolled the head between his hands. If all the grain fell away from the stalk, it was ready for the combine. Dad showed me how to blow the chaff away from the wheat so we could eat a handful, right out there in the field. Oats didn’t separate like wheat did. That’s probably why Jesus talked more about wheat when he was around here trying to teach people a thing or two. I tell you something, if you ever tested out wheat ripeness like that, you would for sure know what Jesus meant about separating the wheat from the chaff, ’cause that chaff was not good for much. And you would know why he said not to worry about weeds growing with the wheat, ’cause wheat grows fast and thick, hardly anything can keep up with it, and when it’s time for harvest, those weeds just fall by the wayside. Jesus never said much about the shaft, though, but he should have. Straw was wonderful to bed down cattle, it whispered ‘come rest here’ when I spread it out with a pitch fork, and it smells so good, I just wanted to lay down and stay for a while. Sometimes I did that with Ladybird.
In August the corn told secrets in the wind, filling the air with promises of fall on the way. The stalks were still green, but the tassels yellow and gold, just like the leaves of the hickory nut tree, getting ready to drop down and blanket everything underneath it with color. The ears of corn started to swell and would soon get dark gold and hard, ready for picking.
But August was the 4-H Fair. I had knitting to finish, baking to perfect, and of course Ladybird to train. Tomatoes had to be picked and canned, not to mention sticky sweet plums, and tart apples for sauce. Sometimes I felt like we were just like that ant in the story, busy getting things ready for the winter.
The first August after I moved my family to the city, we all got a case of the sad-sacks. Then one day my son said, “I miss the sound of the corn.” We took a day-trip with a new city-slicker friend into farm country, rolled the car windows down and drank in the smells as we passed the barns and fields. We pulled onto a dusty dirt road beside a cornfield, got out and just listened. Our new friend said, “No wonder you missed this. Every moment is a new color, a new smell, a new sound.” Yes-siree-bob, that’s where my heart will always be.