This blog was originally published in Southern Living and was written by Rick Bragg who is a Pulitzer Prize- Winning writer and author of several best selling books. I identified with it so much I wanted to share it with you.
When I was a boy, when monsters were real. I would see it in the distance, hovering just above the hot, almost liquid blacktop. It had no form, just a thing shimmering, indistinct. Now I know it was the heat itself, distorting the very air. How odd, to see the heat. But when I was small, it was easy to see more in it than that. This was the creature that came in the worst of summer, the boiling eye of it. It was the could in a white-hot sky that gave up no rain. Aristotle knew it, and the Romans, and then us, in the American South. That thing of glimmering heat from my imagination did not have a name, truly, but its season did. We called it the dog days.
The Greeks and Romans believed Sirius, the brightest star in the constellation Canis Major (Great Dog), ushered in an evil season in late summer, one that boiled seas and soured wine and sent people and livestock into fits. In that season, the DogStar and our sun hung together in the heavens, one rising, one setting, which, they believed, produced more heat than the planet could stand.
Now, of course, we know it is the tilt of the planet, closer to the sun, that brings the heat, but my grandmother knew better. Ava Bundrum knew there were more things than heaven and earth, and spoke of the dog days the way she would any unnatural thing. She would motion me close, as if the clinging air were listening, wave a cardboard funeral home fan at me like she was giving me some kind of blessing, and tell me to stay out of the pasture, stay out of the woods.
It was more than myth. Dogs went mad, or lay panting, glassy-eyed, and you could not rouse them to play. Food went bad in the dog bowls. Cats, through, did not seem to care. Cats don’t ever care.
I can remember children crowded around a rattling box fan, as if it were telling them a story. I remember strong men going white as chalk, trying to catch their breath.
Bulls went mad and tore through fences. Cows would not give mild, and when they did, it went sour, or tasted of sulfur or onions. Birds flew in the house, a bad omen. It meant someone was going to die. Chickens perished in the coops Rabies resurfaced, in foxes, usually, and men shot them from the porch.
The gardens withered. You got either quick, violent storms or no rain at all. Mudholes vanished into pieces of hard clay, like someone had smashed a pot on the ground. Grogs perished, which made my grandmother sad; the more frogs, the healthier the land. (Everyone knew that.) Only the insects reveled. Flies and gnats swirled. Mosquitoes danced. and there was nowhere to hide.
Air-conditioning was myth. We put a man on the moon before my family had a window unit. But when we did, when the air blew cool in August, it was like the mean season became myth itself, just another story, like the ones that old people told of the Depression. I guess I am the old people now. I think of the dog days when I see that glimmer on the distant asphalt, but when I there, it is already gone.
ZfdfdStar and our sun hung tog