In the still, close days of mid-summer — skin flushed and prickly; hair uncomfortably damp with sweat and frizzed by unrelenting humidity — we waited, short of breath and temper, with an eye on the butter dish.
Photo by Flickr user Alex G. It wasn’t a sure thing. Precedence was no guarantee. But it was worth a try, if it would let us deliver the statement of fact with great dramatic flair: “Mom, it’s so hot the butter is melting on the counter!”
Quick on the heels of the segue from patient butter-watching to attempted rational empiricism, we would beseech: “Can we please, please, please turn on the air conditioner?”
While we waited for the butter to liquefy — clearly a warning that we, too, might dissolve if we continued under the present conditions — we lay on the floor noses nearly touching noisy box fans that churned out continuous tunnels of eyeball-drying hot air. The fan blades caught our voices and tossed them back at us, inspiring robot impersonations, but doing little to counteract the sweat that pooled behind bent knees, in a palm propping a chin, anywhere that flesh touched flesh.
Mom cheerfully expounded on the science of how to cool the body. We rubbed ice cubes over our wrists and temples, laid wet washcloths on our necks, and spritzed ourselves with spray bottles cooled in the refrigerator for this very purpose.
Unconvinced by the results of these experiments, we angled for invitations to play with friends whose houses boasted swimming pools and Slip ’n Slides.
At just under 95 degrees Fahrenheit, butter begins to melt. For a stick sitting on the counter to melt — not just soften and sweat, but liquefy — sustained temperatures flirting with 100 degrees are required. For this to become a point of argument with the power to sway our mother, it needed to be paired with a forecast promising days of butter-melting weather to come.
Instead of welcoming sweet cold air into a sealed up house, Mom beamed and enthused over the sounds and scents of summer drifting though our open windows on wisps of breeze that were, she assured us, making such a difference with the heat. She plied us with popsicles, homemade and painfully cold against teeth, as she casually tucked the butter away in the refrigerator remarking that it would only be 84 degrees the next day and wouldn’t that feel good?
Recognizing truth when Mom gently pointed out that the kitchen was the hottest place in the house, we slipped outside into the lengthening shadows, a silent acknowledgement of defeat. Body temperatures soaring, we sprinted toward the nightly neighborhood game of tag as the heat of the day, tempered by the setting sun, melted into the flavor of an August evening.