It’s been hot, but nothing like the scorcher of ’56

Luther Dorr

Yeah, it’s been a hot summer.

And it doesn’t look on this Monday night like it’s going to get much better, especially if it rains as much as the weather people on TV are saying.

It’ll be so humid and so wet and sticky that sleeping will be a major problem, especially without air conditioning.

Still, you haven’t seen anything like the old days.

The summer of 1988, coming as it did after a winter when the ground was bare in January and for much of the winter, was a hot one.

But nothing, and I mean nothing, compares to the summer of 1956 in this area of the state.

You think this is hot?

You should’ve tried sleeping in an attic that summer without air conditioning.

Our mother would urge us to get out in the garden early in the morning so we wouldn’t complain later that it was too hot to weed. I had no trouble doing that because I was awake early, unable to sleep in those close, confining quarters of that attic in a rural Sherburne County parsonage.

If you left a relatively cool church basement in the afternoon, you walked out into a blast furnace that felt like it did when you stood in front of the glass-making operation at the Ford plant in St. Paul.

It was so hot and dry that summer that 58 percent of the U.S. was covered by a severe drought at one time that year.

We’d run through water from the hose and it took forever to get that water even to the point of being cool. It never got cold. Kids even tried to cool off in cow tanks.

Biking to the St. Francis River to bring home a northern or two for dinner or supper was one way to get a little breeze going. But the heat, with no breeze, was stifling at my favorite fishing hole and those trips to the river were shorter that summer.

We had no television to pass the time so I’d ride my bike a couple miles to the neighbor’s place to watch baseball on Saturday afternoon, the one game that was on for the week. Then we’d head to the pasture to try to throw the ball as far as we could past each other, being careful not to step in you know what.

Sometimes our family would go for a ride in our ‘53 Ford, just to get the air moving. The running joke was that we were using the 460 air conditioner – you know, all four windows down at 60 miles an hour.

Conversations at the general store in nearby Santiago were mostly about the weather or about the corn. A five-cent ice cream cone on a Saturday night there was a treat of treats.

Walking across the section to milk a neighbor’s cows provided some relief in the morning because the long grass was wet. But soon the daytime sun would  drive us all into the shade of some trees in the back yard.

Occasionally, when I did those chores in the evening, I’d leave early and watch American Bandstand on the neighbor’s TV. It was the year of Elvis Presley performing Heartbreak Hotel, Don’t Be Cruel and Hound Dog; the Platters doing My Prayer and The Great Pretender; Carl Perkins singing Blue Suede Shoes; Fats Domino doing Blueberry Hill; Bill Haley doing See You Later Alligator; and Gene Vincent and the Blue Caps doing Be Bop A Lula. Every Saturday we’d listen to the Top 40 on WDGY

In the fall of that year Southdale opened in Edina to 40,000 wide-eyed customers and the first indoor mall in the U.S. changed things forever.

But I remember that year, one in which I went off in September to a high school 120 miles away, more for the heat than anything.

It was inescapable. You could go to the lake (we did), you could run through the water from a hose, you could take bike rides, you could go to the BAB beach on the St. Francis River, and you could drink glass after glass of Kool-Aid.

But, inevitably, night would come and I’d make that climb to the attic for another night of tossing and turning.

There were no air-conditioned houses, unless you were well-to-do, and no air-conditioned cars.

Sorry, wimps, the summer of 2012 can’t compare.