August 13 – Summer Punch

by Sara Etgen-Baker

The home I grew up in was a two-bedroom, one-bath cracker box house. Minus the garage, it was only about 950 square feet. Like most post-war homes, ours didn’t have any air-conditioning. During the summer, Mother opened the windows for circulation and summertime heat relief.

Most summers, our neighborhood wilted under a hard Texas sky, sweltering in temperatures that stayed fixed in the mid-to-upper nineties. The cloudless sky was painfully bright whether I looked up at the burning sun or down at its reflection on the concrete pavement. The birds were silent; the grass stood still as if it was too hot to move. Cold water ran hot from the taps, and the roads turned to tar. At night there was very little relief from the heat; our pajamas and nighties stuck clammily to our damp skin.

Most summer days, Mother sat inside in her easy chair sipping on fruit punch and dabbing at her brow with a wet hand towel she kept in the fridge for that purpose. My brothers and I escaped the oppressive heat inside the house and played outside on our shaded front porch. My brothers played war games with their green, plastic Army men; and I played jacks. One particular summer day while playing jacks, my ball bounced out of control striking down my brothers’ Army men who were in the midst of a critical battle.

“Look what you did, you stupid girl!” my older brother shouted, throwing my ball and striking me in the face.

“I’m not stupid! Take it back!” I sprang from my sitting position, knocking over all the green Army men.

“Look what you’ve done!” he yelled as he stood up and glared at me.

“I hate you!” I said, punching his shoulder.

“I hate you MORE!” he said, returning my punch. My younger brother joined in the ruckus. The three of us slapped at each other, striking one another’s arms and legs. Words were exchanged. Within a few short minutes, Mother flung open the screen door and marched onto the front porch.

“Stop it right now!” she hollered. “I’ve had enough of your bickerin’ and fightin’.” Mother raised her arms and lightly clenched her hands into fists. “On the count of three, I’ll start punching. May the best man win! Ready? One…two…three!”

She threw her fists in our direction, packing quite a punch as she struck our shoulders and arms. We froze in place, unable to defend ourselves against our otherwise mild-mannered Mother; the same mother who rarely raised her voice and who never even spanked her children. We ran off the porch, convinced Mother had gone stark-raving mad! Mother wasn’t crazy, of course. The ever-present heat inside the walls of the tiny house had closed in around her, short-wiring her temperament.

Although my home is air-conditioned and bigger than Mother’s, like her, my temperament short-wires during August as summer’s relentless heat bears down on me. Walls close in; my patience runs thin, and I’m more easily agitated. So, I pour myself a glass of summer punch; sit down in an easy chair, and wipe my brow with a cooling rag, resisting the urge to snap or pick a fight with those around me.

A teacher’s unexpected whisper, “You’ve got writing talent,” ignited Sara’s writing desire. Sara ignored that whisper and pursued a different career but eventually, she re-discovered her inner writer and began writing. Her manuscripts have been published in anthologies and magazines including Chicken Soup for the Soul, Guideposts, Times They Were A Changing, and Wisdom Has a Voice.

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17 responses to “August 13 – Summer Punch

  1. Love this! As a sister Texan I remember well the time when most of us spent the summers without airconditioning. And I also know well my brother’s green army men. Your words paint a perfect picture snapshot of one of those days.

    • Sara Etgen-Baker

      thanks, Betty, for reading the piece and comment. Glad you identified with out Texas summers, green Army men, and days now gone by.

  2. There’s a great deal of reminiscing in your story that draws us in.
    I enjoy traveling down memory lane with you.
    Isadora 😎

    • Sara Etgen-Baker

      thanks for your kind comment, Isadora, and for appreciating the way I drew the reader into the story. You’re sweet! 🙂

  3. Your piece reminded me of the hot sweltering summers when I lived in Houston, Texas. Also summers on our farm in Maryland without air conditioning. Mothers also have their breaking points.

  4. Sara Etgen-Baker

    Gosh! You’re so right. Houston is so steamy in the summer! I suppose summer anywhere without air conditioning is uncomfortable anywhere. That summer was the first summer I understood my own mother’s breaking point.

  5. Carolyn Frenzel

    As always, I enjoy your work, Sara. You continue to entertain me with your words! Congratulations on all your recent awards and printings acceptances.
    Carolyn

  6. You’ve captured summer. Great job and great illustration!

  7. Sara Etgen-Baker

    thanks for your kind words, Lynn. They mean a lot to me.

  8. I remember how similar heat and no air from another country created a similar effect 🙂 I often wonder how we survived that heat.

  9. In another country….

  10. I can’t relate to the hot Texan summers yet I have been in very-very hot temperatures / humidity in Turkey, Australia and Mexico and have seen tempers & patience tested as a result. It is amazing how much it drains. There was much that I remember about what you describe in my own life: older siblings, imaginative play and mothers who reveal more about themselves as life unfolds.

    • Sara Etgen-Baker

      thanks, Debra, for reading the selection and for making such a lovely comment. Heat and humidity, regardless of the local, pushes human nature to another place. 🙂

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