It was either the summer of '66 or '67 when I first remember my parents talking about the Dog Days of summer. I knew nothing about constellations or the Dog Star, Sirius. But I knew they were talking about the miserably humid and stifling hot time of year. I childishly thought it had something to do with that lousy smell that dogs - like our pooch, ol' Two Spot - gave off when the air the was heavy and their coats were full of dirt and fleas. Dogs during this period, I had noticed, lounged around in the shade the way humans did (sans the iced tea, colas and snow cones).
My dad was an old farm kid from way back and was well versed in the Farmer's Almanac. Mom was a city gal, but had grandparents who imparted to her much knowledge of the old ways. My parents were never into astrology as it is popularly conceived of today, but, curiously, they believed such things as the old wives' tale that when the zodiacal sign was in the head a dentist couldn't numb your pain. Almanacs were consulted when a trip to the dentist was needed.
The ancients had some odd beliefs about the Dog Star, Sirius. Just as lunacy was thought to be influenced by the moon, the Dog Days were thought to be a portent of dire things to come, as Homer wrote in his Iliad:
Sirius rises late in the dark, liquid sky
On summer nights, star of stars,
Orion's Dog they call it, brightest
Of all, but an evil portent, bringing heat
And fevers to suffering humanity
For most of us this has been a very hot summer. Yesterday my area was treated to a brief but substantial rain shower. You couldn't have called it a storm, but I did hear the thunder rumbling in the distance. After the shower I went out to smell the freshly washed air. I inhaled deeply the fragrance of the saturated earth. The ground had greedily soaked in the welcome moisture. The rain had been invigorating.
Summer isn't done yet. There's a lot more heat in store for us. I'm thankful now for the air-conditioning that I didn't have as a child Back then we toughed out summers with fans and cold drinks. When my brothers and I were outside playing we sweated mercilessly. Dog days might just as well been called that because we smelled like dogs during that period. The Mr. Bubble Mom bought for us I now know was not so just a treat but a practicality as well.
Now these Dog Days will make the first hint of autumn all the sweeter to me. And that will come in due time, even though summer seems endless right now. Come November, however, I will no doubt miss this warmth and my tea will be heated, not iced.