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John W. Pinkerton


It's 99 here in Texas today.  Yesterday was a scorcher, 100.  It does get a little warmish in Texas in the summers.

Looking out my window from my air conditioned house got me to thinking about times I've found it to be uncomfortably warmish.

I think the hottest I've ever found it was during my brief incarceration at Fort Polk, Louisiana, one August in the late 60's.  In the sun it was almost unbearable.  In the shade, sultry.  “Sultry” is a good old Southern word used to describe the combination of high humidity and high temperatures.  It predates the heat index and has the added benefit of charm.  I imagine the sultriness of the South is what causes Southern boys to like to shoot things and blow things up…anything to take their minds off the…well, the oppression of the summer's Hellish heat.

People who leave their pets and sometimes their children, God forbid, in hot cars have probably never had the brief experience I had when I borrowed a relative's car to travel one block.  Before arriving at my destination, I noticed that I couldn't lower the windows (Did I mention it was a  relative's car?) and the air-conditioner wasn't working.  Upon arrival at my destination, the lumber yard, I turned off the engine to egress from the vehicle.  Egress was not in this car's vocabulary: the driver's door refused to budge.  In short order I felt heat somewhat beyond sultry.  After a few seconds more, I began to panic.  I quickly realized that the car was attempting to kill me.   Feeling more determined than the car, I dragged my old carcus  over the consol and  out the passenger door---a narrow escape.  Attempting to bring my breathing level down to normal, I stared at the death trap for some time while shielding myself from the summer sun beneath a convenient structure’s eave.  Not being totally stupid, I vowed at that moment to never fully close the driver's side door on this particular vehicle.  I got what I needed  from the lumber yard and drove the car back to its owner with one hand on the steering wheel and one hand on the open door.  I mentioned to the owner my experience with her car.  She went on extensively…extensively…what one must do to egress the vehicle.  She seemed more interested in blaming me than sympathizing with my near-death experience.  Relatives, an undependable lot.

Back to Fort Polk.  I don't know what the standard is for the Army to have an ambulance follow marching (I called it walking.) in the heat.  Apparently when the thermometer shatters and dismisses it's vital fluids, the army deens it to be wise to have an ambulance follow the walking, oops, marching men.  Or perhaps they make a call to Hell just to see if Fort Polk has exceeded the limits of Hell.  At any rate, I never found it comforting when I noticed an ambulance following me around.

I did learn a good lesson at Polk: water is a valuable commodity.  They once insisted that we go on a 15 mile stroll (march) through the piney woods.  Of course we each had our canteen of water along with other items like a backpack and rifle which I thought was totally unnecessary for a stroll.  After the first hour, we took a break; I drank no water.  After the second hour, we took a break; I drank no water.  After the third hour, we took a break; I drank all of my water in a single gulp.  Oops---nothing left for the remainder of the trip.  Needless to say, I didn't die although there were moments that it seemed like a reasonable alternative to my discomfort.

When I was a young fellow, I didn't seem to notice the heat as much as I do now.  I was born and reared before the advent of home air conditioning.  We were a hardy lot…those of us who survived.  I'm pretty sure the reason we went to so many movies back then was that it was one of the few places one could find relief from the heat: they were one of the first places to have artificially cooled air.  It was lovely.  The movie was just a bonus one got free along with the cool air.  Home air conditioning kinda took the shine off of movie houses.

When I left Fort Polk, I took a bus to Fort Sill, Oklahoma, for my advanced training in artillery.  I learned two things there: one was that artillery pieces are amazingly accurate; the second was that when one is a little farther from the Gulf Coast, one does not encounter sultry as often.  My first day there I felt that it was getting a little warm in mid-afternoon.  Listening to a radio, I learned that it was 100-plus degrees.  Hmmm…less humidity, less discomfort.

Why the Hell the powers that be thought it was necessary to send me to Fort Polk in August is beyond my comprehension. 

Oh well, many things have been added to this list since then.

Folks, if you Yankees (that includes Californians) decide to move to Texas, do so in winter months: it will remind you of summers back home.