Mack Williams: The lingering smells of summer

Published 12:00 am Saturday, July 2, 2022

That Sunday morning a couple weeks ago was s-s-s-o-o hot! (no one needs to play the role of Ed McMahon on the old Johnny Carson “Tonight Show” and say :”How hot was it?”, for we all know and remember), During church service, the air conditioning seemed to be straining against the “devilish” heat, but thankfully, air conditioning was winning!
Since our choir dispenses with the wearing of robes in the Summer; as I sat in the choir pew, I could readily feel the chilling effects of evaporation within my shirt.
Later, during the service the wet chill disappeared, as both my shirt and I dried; with that slight, evaporative bite of chill being replaced with comfortable, normal coolness.
Stepping back outside, buildings, houses, and plants seemed so brightly hot, it felt as if the earth had moved a bit closer to the sun, or the sun had experienced a “nuclear fusional spasm” and grown a bit!
On my way to the car, I smelled the strong “odor”(more than just a scent) of boxwoods, as if they were no more than a yard away; but they were actually across the street, more than 30 feet away! The super-heated air heated them, and then seemed to act like a vaporizer in spreading their aroma! This seemingly close boxwood smell mimicked a similar smell in my youth, when I ascended the steps to the Rowan Public Library past the boxwoods which lined both sides of the entrance. It was the same when entering the office of our family doctor back then, Dr. Frank B. Marsh.
The blooms of a nearby gardenia bush looked slightly “burnt” around the edges, in the same way that meringue on a lemon-meringue pie looks when the pie has been baked for too long.
A nearby lawn seemed to be overly exuding that strong chemical lawn fertilizer smell which always make me think of the smell of a chlorinated pool! It was as if the unusual heat had stirred up the ingredients and they were evolving into something else. In the early 1950s, American physical chemist, Harold Urey had mixed chemicals with the “hot spark” of electricity to create some of the building blocks of life; but this yard’s owner wasn’t interested in generating any new life which wasn’t already in his yard, especially crabgrass!
A recently re-coated parking lot was so hot that the re-heated asphalt “aroma” made me think of Rancho la Brea; but it wasn’t of the right depth or age for wooly mammoth tusks, saber-toothed tiger teeth, or dire wolf bones to be buried somewhere beneath my feet.
Later, driving down the hot road in the hot air, I seemed to catch the leafy smell of oaks, maples, tulip poplars all seemingly magnified and separated out by the heat!
The lower situated tree leaves were still, while the tree-top leaves were waving back and forth, caught in a higher, maybe even hotter wind! They were being so thrashed about that I imagined them “bubbling” in the hot upper breeze, the way turnip greens and collards seem to bubble in boiling water! (this made me think that even though hot air cooking is healthier, I’d rather have greens fixed the same way as the older cooks of my home church, Saint Paul’s Lutheran cook them at Homecoming: into a “delicious green ooze,” with fatback bubbles of such consistency that they refuse to pop unless met with the prongs of a fork!
That other day, the extra-heated leaf and flower scents faded after sunset; but I could still detect them, much as the odors of the day’s cooking linger within a house.

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