If you can’t take the heat, stay out of the kitchen.

I never did heat well, and whoever thinks that those who are raised to it are somehow magically inured to it are wrong. Quite wrong. I have a friend whose ancestry is Cuban and who spent a significant slice of her life on the east coast, from New York to Florida. She moved here to Seattle a few years back and treats any day over 75F as a betrayal of trust. I was happily willing to undergo a day or two of 85+ in gratitude for the assurance I felt that no matter what it would never be 30 below. I grew up in central Illinois, and I thought I had left Midwestern summers behind.

But this summer it’s all coming back to me. Relentless sun. Inescapable heat. All those awful late spring and early fall afternoons on the playing fields of MacArthur High, hoping against hope that whatever ball we were forced to play with that hour would come nowhere near me. Sweat sheeted my eyes making everything blurry. The sky dissolved into a white haze in which nothing was discernible. I was torn between hoping I would just pass out and being afraid that I would. I can’t remember ever catching a ball.

I was 17 before we had an air-conditioned house with a room of my own. Before that I shared a room – hell, I shared a bed – with my sister, three years younger. Luckily she hated me and didn’t want to cuddle. We just lay there, as far from each other as possible, on sweat-damp sheets in bedrooms where the air, both outside and in, just hung there, almost too thick to breathe.

It was July of 2001. My daughter and I were driving south from Chicago on our way to my first (well, actually my fortieth) high school reunion. It had taken me 40 years to bite the bullet and just go already. We pulled off the interstate for gas and sundries, and as we climbed out of the air-conditioned rental, my daughter looked across the top of the car at me.

“You lived here?” she asked.
“We didn’t know any better,” I replied.

It was the heat. Granted it was also the humidity, but the humidity without the heat would be just another rainy day in Seattle. In the middle of Illinois, it was sheer hell.

After high school and a couple years of college, I moved to Chicago (hot), then northern Wisconsin (also hot). Some of it was made bearable by working in air conditioned offices. How I managed the rest of the time, I have no idea. Those memories may have gone the way of other excruciatingly painful periods, like childbirth. I was even pregnant one summer on the Door County farm, weeding a quarter-acre garden and milking goats. My daughter was born on August 4th. I have no survival tips. I just don’t remember. Maybe I just grew up and dealt with it. And then, of course, I didn’t know any better.

I didn’t come to Seattle for the weather. I came because I had sent my daughter to live with my ex-husband, and I had to be near her. I knew nothing of Seattle weather. When I thought of the west coast, I thought of California. It sounded hot. I’ve never even laid out on a beach. I’ve never wanted to. Washington? Oregon? Tiny little states piled like forgotten boxes on top of California. Didn’t know a thing about them. But that’s where Caroline was so I packed my car with everything I could fit into it, including her brother, and drove west. I’ve been here for 30 years. And I love it. Until this summer. This summer, I don’t feel quite so assured. After this summer, I know that anything can happen. Even in Seattle

I used to boast about living on the watermelon rind of the country. That little green strip you could see outlining the northwestern coast, dissolving into a slightly yellow mountain zone, before blossoming out into the huge red balloon of the prairie states. This year it’s all topsy turvy. I just spoke to my son, who moved back to Wisconsin. It’s 70F in Madison right now. It’s supposed to be 90 in Seattle again tomorrow.

Only 116 more days ‘til November. Maybe I’ll be able to get back in the kitchen in time for Thanksgiving.