In typical New England fashion, the glop of humid air that descended on us this weekend exited amid a rush of twisting trees late yesterday. To the north, thunderstorms tore limbs and stopped traffic on the highway. At our house, thunder muttered and coughed, but once a dry squall mustered the leaves into a quadrille and departed, it left us with today, the kind you pray for when your daughter is getting married, there's a special graduation to attend or you plan to walk twenty miles for charity.
My agenda involved none of the above; instead, I served coffee and pastries to seniors in an antique house doing business as a function room located on a hill above our breeze-dimpled harbor. The sun hung from the sky; a professional calendar picture stacked with bright cumulous clouds on the horizon. Shifting winds set branches tossing like the heads of aging horses on their way out to pasture, but the air heated up anyway--I threw my sweatshirt aside while clearing dishes and wiping down counters. When I returned home though, our house, nestled in a shady street under pines and hundred-year-old-oaks, was freezing. Shivering, I walked down the driveway, the only place on our property with sun at that hour, and sat down to the hot tar of memory.
When we were growing up, three times a week in the summer, our mother trekked some combination of her six kids to swimming lessons at a man-made beach on a small lake in our town. Petite and underweight, we were all stick-like wraiths with an unswerving affinity for water; playing in the pond long after the lessons ended, until we shuddered and our lips turned blue. Then, wrapped in towels, mom packed us into the car for a ride to the next town and a shady farm stand where she’d purchase fresh produce, corn, carrots, or peas, before delivering us home for lunch.
Though as much as a half-an-hour could go by between the time we passed the raucous waterfall on the road to the farm, yanked on the clanking scale where customers weighed paper-bagged goods and our arrival back home, we’d step out of the car still shaking. The quickest cure was to spread out our wet towels on the hot asphalt driveway and lay down like soft snakes. The blistering blacktop steamed the dampness from the towels and fed sauna-like moisture into our frozen cores. Sometimes we fell asleep and woke blinking and confused when mom called us in to eat.
It’s been a long time since I’ve attempted warmth via driveway. Something like twenty-plus years ago in a house with a driveway that climbed at a 35 degree angle, we experienced a similar day to today. I wandered out, sans towel, and planted myself down for a warming snooze, only to startle awake to an anxious neighbor idling her car at the bottom of the driveway, asking if I needed an ambulance.
Perhaps it was the lack of towel that caused her concern; in retrospect, the presence of a striped mat might have communicated some planning to my nap. Recalling that embarrassment and sensitive to the parade of cars that ribbon down our street, today I relocated myself out of sight on a bluestone path at the side of the driveway and lizard-like, absorbed the heat.