My community theater debut came the year tee-shirts read, I Survived the Summer of 1980.
That was a bad one, weather-wise. It was hot and dry. No rain, no time, no how.
I spent June and most of July, four evenings a week, in the auditorium of a San Marcos junior high school.
At the director’s signal, the lead tenor ambled onstage singing:
Overhead the sun is shining
Not a cloud across the sky
Not a sign on the horizon
And it’s gonna be another hot day
Underneath, the earth is burning
Crops is bad and land is dry
Still the sun
Keeps on returnin’
and it’s gonna be another hot day
Then the chorus, of which I was a member, ambled on after him:
Yes, it’s gonna be another hot day.
We sang a lot about heat. We sang a lot about rain, too.
None of us had to be told to move slowly or to look tired and sweaty and miserable. Except for a set of double doors on each side, the auditorium was sealed shut. No breeze swept through. Until opening night, the air conditioner stayed off.
The play in rehearsal was 110 in the Shade, Tom Jones’ and Harvey Schmidt’s musical adaptation of The Rainmaker.
In every night’s backstage conversation, someone noted the irony of our situation. A college girl said, “Wouldn’t it be neat if it doesn’t rain all summer, and then, on opening night, at the very end of the last act, when sound-effect thunder begins to rumble, rain begins to pour down outside?”
We forgave her the thought. She was young, and heat had obviously addled her brain. In addition, it’s always been my policy to cut sopranos of her quality quite a bit of slack.
As it happened, rain spoiled the effect by arriving a few days before the play opened, and by the time we closed, most people skipped the cast party. Drought followed by heavy rain usually equals flooding of area creeks, sometimes of rivers. No one wanted to get caught by high water.
Heat notwithstanding, I loved that summer. The privilege and joy of singing made the discomfort worthwhile. Let me sing and I’ll put up with a lot.
Or I would in 1980. The current summer finds me in a different frame of mind.
The spring of 1980 was relatively cool. Thermometers waited until early June to skyrocket.
This summer began in April. This summer, we’re losing trees. Most of Texas is in extreme or exceptional drought. An arborist told one of my friends that we’ll be seeing the effects for years to come. Wildfires cover the state. The Llano River is drying up, and with it that area’s source of water. And then there are the farmers and ranchers, and the crops and the livestock. And the people who live without anything to cool their houses. Family Eldercare is once again collecting fans for people who can’t afford fans or air conditioning.
Technically, we’re now in the midst of a cold front: highs are between 95 and 99, two-digits temps until next Monday. Tomorrow and Thursday, there’s a slight chance of rain.
I confess–every time the local weatherman predicts that chance of rain, I laugh. Bitterly. Derisively.
Then today, I saw cause for hope: the cenizo is blooming. A hedge bordering a little strip mall just a mile or so from my house bears a dozen or so little purple flowers.
Google cenizo and you learn the shrub blooms after a rain.
Ask me, and you learn it blooms before. I know. I’ve been watching it for years.
This afternoon, when I saw those purple petals, I got so excited, I came close to running the car right up onto the sidewalk.
One swallow doesn’t make a spring, of course, nor do a dozen flowers make a deluge.
But tomorrow I’ll drive down to check on their progress, perhaps get out and take a more exact count. And hope those flowers contain a message:
It’s gonna rain
All through the mornin’.
It’s gonna rain
All through the night.
It’s gonna rain
All day tomorrow!
And Lord God A-mighty.
Now won’t that be a sight!
Lyrics to “Gonna Be Another Hot Day” and “The Rain Song (Reprise)” by Tom Jones; music by Harvey Schmidt.
Image of cenizo (purple sage) by J.M.Garg (Own work) [GFDL (www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html) or CC-BY-3.0 (www.creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons