Writing this at a coffee shop table in air-conditioned comfort. Outside it’s 102, and the newspaper on the table next to me says it’s the Dog Days of summer. It’s a weird time of year when I’m white-knuckled holding onto summer and equally eager to leave it behind. When the boys of summer still play baseball, but everybody’s talking about the impending football season. When everybody is back to school, but nobody has accomplished much there.
My earliest memories of middle August include my rural hometown’s annual sidewalk sale, called Dog Days. I’d save money for weeks ahead of time, and mom and I would go to town early in the morning. All my school clothes and whatever supplies that new school year required were secured before noon, none of it for the regular price. And even then there wasn’t much left over for extras. A Batman pencil bag or a coveted iron-on for my T-shirt meant more than I can tell you. Still, we always ended up going out for lunch at the Bakery.
Them burgers and ice-cream desserts were bitter-sweet. Good-bye to everything that made up a summer: sunny mornings running flat out across Grandpa’s cow pasture, afternoons soaking in a cattle stock tank, evenings drinking Cokes and riding down the highway with all the windows open. Hello to the cool winds of unknown autumn.
Later, when I lived in South Carolina and worked at the Laurens County Advertiser, the Dog Days were characterized by fluff stories and desperate headlines (Man Bites Dog) because nothing of real importance was going on. Middle August meant slow news days and the promise of high humidity. Nothing was happening yet, but it would be soon. Once more: good-bye and hello.
The Dog Days still hold us in that kind of suspense. It’s no longer what was, but it’s not yet what will be.
In my new young reader adventure from Painted Pony Books, Racing a Dog Star, twelve year-old Jo Harper is doing her best to adjust to the end of summer, the beginning of the school year, and a mystery that appears to implicate her dad in some sort of criminal activity.
It’s a weird time of year, even in 1910.
Jo tossed the catalog aside and watched Abby arrange papers on her desk. Finally the constable looked up and, leaning forward with folded hands, said, “The way you’re feeling? Everybody feels that way one time or other. Especially during the dog days of summer.”
“What exactly does that mean, Abby? The dog days?”
“These days and nights when the dog star, Sirius, is bright in the night sky. When it’s so very hot. Them old Romans first called it dog days.”
“It’s not the heat that’s got me down.”
“All’s I know is that under a dog star, people look too serious.”
Jo nodded blankly.
“That’s a joke,” said Abby. “Get it? Serious? Sirius?”
Jo got up and turned toward the door with a frown.
“I gotta go, Abby,” she said. “I’ll be fine.”
Here in the coffee shop, a woman just ordered an ice cream drink for her daughter and a hot chocolate for herself. It’s the kind of order that becomes a real life Dog Days parable.
“Add some pumpkin spice,” she says. “I always drink pumpkin spice in the fall.”
And so the seasons move on.