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Al Batt: It’s summertime and I hear that the living is uneasy

Tales from Exit 22 by Al Batt


Stay near the flyswatter.

It’s summer. When is it truly summer? When there is no sign of winter anywhere.

It’s a beautiful summer day here at the home place, the entertainment capital of my world, but I’m a chronic walker, so my wife and I visited St. Olaf Lake. We met several convertibles on the way. The only convertible we own is a riding lawn mower. St. Olaf Lake covers 91 acres and is 33 feet at its deepest. People fish for bluegills, crappies, bass and northerns there. The most common names for lakes in Minnesota in descending order are: Mud, Long, Rice, Bass, Round, Horseshoe, Twin, Island, Johnson and Spring. Sorry, St. Olaf.

There were dragonflies and damselflies galore at St. Olaf Lake. They’re called mosquito hawks, snake doctors, darning needles or devil’s darning-needles. I thought darning needles came from their habit of moving back and forth over an area, much like needles darning socks. Devil’s darning needles because superstition said dragonflies sewed up the eyes, ears or mouth of a sleeping child who’d been naughty. No wonder kids didn’t want to go to bed. Snake doctor came from the belief they stitched up injuries sustained by snakes. Mosquito hawk because dragonflies eat mosquitoes.

When I was a dear boy, moths and I went to drive-in movies. While at the passion pit, I watched either the “Attack of the 50-Foot Woman” or the 3000 mosquitoes in the car with me. The slapping of mosquitoes sounded like applause. We didn’t have a lot of things, but I had a jacket while sitting in a car at the Starlight Drive-In Theatre. It was hot, but having a jacket made Mother happy. One thing we didn’t have was air conditioning. We lingered at the frozen food section at Sibilrud’s Cardinal Grocery Store, formerly a Jack Sprat store, on sultry days. In a nearly related note, I was thrilled years later while visiting a large supermarket (Sibilrud’s had three aisles) and hearing thunder in the produce aisle. The sound effects came from an automatic misting system that sprayed water on the produce at regular intervals, and served as a warning it was about to spray. There is a fine line between cheesy and cool. Back at the farm, I’d jump into the cow tank, trying hard not to frighten sensitive cows.

There were no steam-powered cellphones. Another thing we didn’t have was a cabin up north. We had St. Olaf Lake. It wasn’t far away. It offered rowboats, pontoons, bait and water. On days hot enough a funeral parlor fan made a man smile, we went floating on St. Olaf Lake. We returned to the dock when the fireflies signaled it was time. Some of the fireflies weren’t very bright. Stay in school, lightning bugs. Fireflies were and are in the tall grass after sunset. The lightning bugs are flying flashlights. I put them into a Mason jar with air holes poked in the lid. I felt as if I were the first person to ever do such a thing. I placed the jar on an ancient table that acted as a desk in my room. I sweated to sleep as beetles blinked. They were gone in the morning. The jar was empty. My mother had released the fireflies after I’d fallen asleep.

When the weather was so dry, we could use a bottle cap as a rain gauge, I wet my plants in the garden and practiced signing my name in the summer dust while watching for low flying birds. Folklore said if birds fly low, then rain we shall know. Barn swallows do that when I mow the lawn. They appear to be worshipping Toro, but they’re feeding on the flying insects the mower kicks up. Does one swallow make a summer? It wouldn’t be summer without swallows. I’ve read 850 times that a barn swallow eats 850 insects per day. House sparrows find insects smashed against a car are fender-licking good.

Mother made sure my tetanus shot was current because eventually, I’d run a rusty nail protruding from a board into my bare foot while showcasing our summer cows to visitors. “Summer brown and summer black,” I told them earnestly.

The sounds of summer can be drowned out by air conditioning and lawn mowers. A friend begs out of lawn mowing duties by claiming it gives him motion sickness.

Summer has a sky the color of chicory. Every summer seems as if it would last forever. None do.

With summer, you get what you get. Enjoy it.

Al Batt’s column appears every Wednesday.