The recent spate of miserable heat and stifling humidity brings to mind the years (1980-1985) our family lived in a suburb of Orlando. I know, way to sell it, right? Not the Sunshine State, not sunny Florida, which the orange juice manufacturers have managed to imbue with a refreshing, delicious sounding tang … just Orlando, and even more prosaic, a suburb. So we lived in a suburb named Apopka, which means “potato eating place” (I was told this in an early grade, so if it’s wrong, blame Bear Lake Elementary). We did eat a lot of potatoes – I come of starch-loving Western European stock on both sides of my mother’s family – so maybe it was meant to be. After five years of fire ants and sandy soil that was no good for tomatoes and even once, a scorpion in the house, we came to our senses and hied ourselves back north to the midwest with its ice-covered sidewalks and nearly the same overpowering heat (just fewer days of it). Or, on the other side of it, we went from heavy-bearing grapefruit trees in the backyard & a childhood filled with Disney World and Sea World (definitely the best time for that!) and shirtsleeves nearly all year to the glory of four seasons, buying cider at the orchard and being closer to our family again. (You knew I couldn’t leave the glass half empty, didn’t you? It was an experiment on my part.)
Anyway, those were simpler days when I was but a wee lassie and my chief concern was whether or not it would be too hot to go outside at all. These days I find myself trying not to imagine dollar bills slowly flowing out of my doors & windows as the air conditioner runs relentlessly to keep the house liveable. But THANK GOD FOR AIR CONDITIONING. I haven’t had to start eating ramen noodles just to stay cool, so I shan’t complain.
My best friend growing up was a boy who lived down the street with the remarkable name of Tommy Hartshorn. Yes, that was his real name. I believe that was his dad’s name too – although the father went by Tom. Tommy & I were thick as thieves for several years, until cooties came between us long about the year I was in third grade and he was in fourth. I was mystified then and I’m mystified now. Ah well.
We were like poster children for gender equality. In the morning, we’d play GI Joe. In the afternoon, when it was too hot to go outside, we’d re-locate to my house and play My LIttle Pony or Strawberry Shortcake. (AH THE EIGHTIES!! I CAN JUST SMELL BLUEBERRY MUFFIN NOW!) I had a pink bike with a banana seat and – I think – streamers on the handlebars, and his was more like a BMX bike, with the knobby tires (in blue of course). We’d often trade bikes. Other neighborhood children floated in and out of what, to me, seemed mostly like the Tommy & Courtney Show (or the Courtney & Tommy Show, however you like it): there was Ginger, who was considerably girlier than me (this is a compliment, I never saw her with dirt smudged all over her clothes, and other things of that sort which were common occurrences in my life – still are, actually…). Her family had a cocker spaniel – regrettably, a biter, There was Justin, who was a Seventh Day Adventist, so we couldn’t ask him to play on Saturday, but on all other days he and his siblings (I think there was a brother?) were a big part of whatever we were doing. There was a hispanic/latino family who lived a few houses down, and Cristina and her little brother were really sweet, full of laughter and smiles, and further I was very impressed with their fluency in Spanish. There were two other kids, who often came to stay with their grandparents who had a pool and lived between us and the Ortegas, and though I spent hours and hours with them, and have photos taken with them, their names are regrettably lost to me. (I’m sorry!)
I’ve often wondered what became of Tommy, and of all the other children I knew there. And I suppose it wouldn’t be too hard to find out, what with Facebook and Google and all the ways there are to dig that sort of information up … I am an information professional by trade, after all. I guess for a long time it hadn’t occurred to me that I could look.
The other outcome of all those hot, hot afternoons, where it really was too much to go outside, was that I read my way through my parents’ bookshelves (with the exception of Shogun and The Thorn Birds, which were marked off-limits) by the time I was in third grade. We’d check out stacks and stacks of books from the public library and I’d burn through them in no time, to the point where some weeks I was left with no reading material but the encyclopedia. And that pretty much brings us to the present time.