the heat of a summer’s day


This morning I opened up my email to find these glorious images by Peter Stackpole of children playing in the spray of a fire hydrant on a New York City street.

They are from 1953,  the warmest year to date, then, in the city, when a prolonged heat wave made New York boil at over one hundred and two degrees during late August and early September.

These were the days before everyone had air conditioning, when the lazy spin of a fan or a cold shower were the most relief one might find on a steamy summer evening. As dusk fell neighbors would gather on stumps and street corners, setting up chairs and tables for a game of cards, or would stroll around the block to escape the closeness of a small apartment with little ventilation.

It was the year Sylvia Plath came to New York to start her internship at Mademoiselle, the summer she writes about in The Bell Jar, “It was a queer, sultry summer, the summer they electrocuted the Rosenbergs, and I didn’t know what I was doing in New York.”

It was a time when Kerouac and his friends roamed Loisaida, when Hemingway won a Pulitzer for The Old Man and the Sea. Marilyn Monroe graced the cover of Playboy, Queen Mary met her maker and Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay reached the top of the world, summiting Everest. The sounds were of Mingus and Miles, Hank Williams’ Your Cheatin’ Heart and Doris Day’s Secret Love.

photo by elliot erwitt
photo by elliot erwitt

It’s the summer this baby was lain lovingly on a bed and cooed over by his mother, who set him there diaperless so that she might blow on his skin to cool him, coax him to sleep despite the heat.

Water is magic, the source of life without which none of us would exist, it fills our bodies and swirls within us. It calms and soothes with its music as it flows over a river bed, as it taps at the roof with its rain or crashes in waves against the shore. Its pleasures are universal.

Oh, I could talk of global warming and the melting Himalayan glaciers, or the devastation that water can bring when it comes too fast or too slow. I could describe for you what it is like to live without it, how many become ill or even die from its scarcity.

But instead let me simply, for today, realize my good fortune and remind you of the way it feels against your skin when you dive into its coolness, of the joys and pleasures it brings on a hot summer’s day.

I leave you with Karl Decker’s lovely slide show of children from all over playing in the water.

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3 thoughts on “the heat of a summer’s day

  1. Mention Sylvia Plath and Marilyn Monroe together as part of the same time is important. Plath had quite a wonderful dream about Marilyn Monroe, a dream that I discuss in AMERICAN ISIS: THE LIFE AND DEATH OF SYLVIA PLATH that St. Martin’s Press will published on February 11, 2013.

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