An Ode to July – Redux

[The following is likely an editorial by Paul Greenberg written for the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. I cannot find the original so pardon my atrocious attribution.]

Once again, I would like to start July by sharing an excerpt from one of my favorite pieces of writing–Jonathan Portis’ ode to July that was published on the editorial page back in 2009.

Jon was responding to an assertion that Arkansas shouldn’t move it’s voting primary to July because July is just too hot for people to get out and vote. The first half of his piece addressed the voting issue, but this portion is pure Portis poetry.

“As a child, I would hold my father’s hand when we walked to the town square on a hot July night to join the crowds in watching the primary election results being tallied on a chalkboard outside the courthouse door. My father always wore a suit, tie and starched white shirt and yet his hands were never sweaty. He never wilted. It’s doubtful he even noticed it was hot.

“(After he died, I found among his papers a letter his mother had written to him in the summer of 1930. She was worried about her baby boy, who had lit out from the civilizing influences of Birmingham, Ala., to find his fate in the wilds of Arkansas. Her biggest concern was for his mode of dress. “I desperately pray that you are wearing your suit coat when you go outside,” she wrote. “It is very distressing, and I cannot bear it, to think that you should be abroad in your shirtsleeves.”)

“What I’m saying is that the character of the authentic Southerner (e.g., my father) is forged in the oppressive heat of a July day and in the febrile sleeplessness of a July night. It is the month when we learn to walk on the shaded side of the street and to never pass up a drink of cold water.

“May is a prissy, indecisive, in-between month, too fastidious for spring’s wet messiness and too bashful for summer’s seductive hug. It is a dithering month with no conviction.

“July is totally committed to being what it is, a full-throated, swaggering, boastful beast that is not to be denied its moment in the sun. True Southerners learn to take July head on, punch for punch, kick for kick, grapple for grapple, shot for shot.

“Still, I will not lower the level of political discourse by further denigrating the month of May. I come not to bury May, but to praise Julius Caesar’s month.

“July is when crape myrtles, those sentinels of high summer, are in glorious bloom. The crape myrtle should be a symbol of the South. It is strong, enduring and immodest, a real showboat of a tree. The crape myrtle laughs at the heat. Chop down a crape myrtle today and it will be back next year, smaller but undaunted. And in the summer after that it will have morphed itself back into its full, lush, peacock display.

“It’s the month when you sit on the porch at dusk and watch a fleet of lightning bugs suddenly arise from the grass, winking, blinking, flitting and flirting like teenagers, all in search of a midsummer night’s hookup. Around 11 p.m. they just as suddenly disappear, descending somewhere into a cuddle puddle of lightning bug bliss. You can have your silly May Pole fertility fetish. Give me the lightning bug bacchanal of a July evening.

“July is when the frogs and crickets sing you to sleep, and the excitable mockingbirds wake you at 4:30 in the morning with their incessant chatter. The neighborhood cats could do something about those mockingbirds, but, you know, it’s just too hot.”