– summer memories –
It’s a Saturday in August.
I’m in the back of a blue pickup truck with old AC that never seems to work right.
We’re rolling down a tiny country road lined with wilting pine trees and melting trailer parks.
In other words, it’s unbearably hot.
Green fields of cotton and peanuts blur outside the truck’s window as I shift my legs to make more room for the plastic grocery bags that are piled at my feet. We’ve been running errands all afternoon – just my mom and I – and I’m finding myself with less and less leg room as the day goes on.
Despite the limited space, I’m enjoying the ride. The truck’s engine makes a rough, comforting sort of sound and I like the way the rubber tires crunch against the gravel road.
Suddenly my mother’s voice breaks the peaceful silence.
“Oh dear. I don’t think that’s supposed to happen.”
I lean forward to see that she’s pointing to a small gauge on the truck’s dashboard that’s labeled “OIL PRESSURE.” The red arrow is sliding rapidly to the left. After a moment it hits the zero mark and she sighs. “We’d better stop.”
We slow down and pull into the dusty, overgrown parking lot of a tiny white church. My mom pulls the keys out of the ignition and climbs out to investigate the problem. As the engine stops whirring, the last cool wisps of air conditioning quickly die out and I can feel the stiflingly hot air filling the small cab at a rapid speed. I unbuckle my seatbelt and push the all of the doors open, hoping to cool myself off. It doesn’t help much.
I can hear my mother’s somewhat worried voice as she talks with my dad on her cell phone. The open hood of the truck obscures her from my view, but her words echo loud and clear in the empty parking lot. I listen to the one-sided conversation. It seems that we need more oil for the engine. They decide that my mother and I should to walk three blocks to the nearest gas station and buy some.
My mom hangs up the phone with a sigh and a smile. “Well, let’s get going, then. This will be an adventure.” She pushes the hood shut with a bang and and swings her purse over her shoulder.
I slide off the hot leather seat and my feet hit the ground hard, creating small clouds of dust around my legs. I push the truck doors closed and we head for the tiny, cracked strip of concrete that winds closely along the side of the road. Some would refer to as a sidewalk, but I would hardly call it that. The air is still and hot and thick and I can see little heat waves shimmering on the road ahead of us as we begin our journey down the narrow path.
The glaringly bright sunshine reflects off of the sides of passing cars and into my face. I blink and shield my eyes with my hand. The cars move slowly and steadily, their inhabitants waving as they pass. No one seems to be in much of a hurry today.
The walk to the gas station is mostly grassy fields and roads. At one point we pass a tiny, dirty, dilapidated white house with broken windows and a gaping hole in the roof. A car is parked in the driveway and some plastic toys are lying scattered on the porch. I’ve seen people living in that house before, but they never stay for very long. I wonder how long this family will stay.
At last, we round a final corner and the gas station comes into view. It’s red-and-blue-striped sign stands out against the greens and browns of the surrounding landscape. We cross the road and enter the small parking lot, which is empty except for two extremely dusty cars and a lone plastic bag that the slight wind is pushing half-heartedly along. Two gas pumps stand in the middle of the parking lot, unused and lonely.
We head towards the short brick store. It’s slanted tin roof provides little shade to the dusty cars beneath it. I can see that the outside walls of the building were once painted white, but they’ve long since faded to a dirty gray color. Bright neon signs advertising cigarettes, soda, and low prices are plastered onto the building’s crowded front windows.
We reach the front of the store and I push the glass door open. A bell rings cheerily above my head, a cool rush of air hits my face, and my nose tingles as I breathe in the sharp smells of lemon cleanser, sweet tobacco, 99 cent hot dogs, and bitter, overcooked coffee.
I’m feeling very thankful for air conditioning in that moment. The door swings shut behind me with another jingle of it’s bell and the thick, hot outside air is replaced by the coolness of the tiny store. My loose hair is stuck to the back of my neck, wet with sweat. The cold air feels so good.
I wander slowly behind my mother as she walks up and down the tiny aisles, looking for the engine oil. She finds it and turns to check out, then pauses as we pass the Icee machine. “Do you want a drink?”
I nod as I realize just how thirsty I am. We take paper cups from the stack on the counter and plastic lids from a small cardboard box. A neon yellow sticky note with “OUT OF ORDER” scrawled on it is stuck to the lever below the cherry-flavored ice. The red cylinder has stopped spinning and I can see the mixture melting inside.
I reach for the lever below the whirring blue cylinder and push it down hard. The icy drink quickly fills the paper cup. I can feel it’s wet coldness seeping through the sides and chilling my fingers.
We head towards the register and hand the drinks and oil to the tired-looking woman behind the counter. She unwraps a stick of gum, pushes it into her mouth, and rings up our purchase while her jaw moves in a slow, rhythmic motion.
When she finally finishes counting the change she hands us our drinks, smiles, and calls me “sugar.” Her voice is slow and sweet and muffled by the chewing gum. She draws out the “u” sound in in a lazy, unhurried sort of way.
I take a sip of the drink through the red plastic straw as we walk out the door and re-enter the sunny parking lot. The cold, sugary ice melts in my mouth and chills my throat. It feels wonderful. The plastic sign in the store claimed the drink to be “blue raspberry”, but I’ve tasted raspberries and they taste nothing like this. This is sweet and soft and shockingly cold, not warm and bumpy and bitter.
The walk back to the yard of the tiny church doesn’t seem quite as long now that we’ve got something cold in our hands and the promise of a working truck to take us home. I count the cracks in the narrow sidewalk and lean down to pull a smiling yellow dandelion from between them.
This time, when people inside the passing cars wave to us, I wave back.