Our minds do a great job of filtering our memories. That is especially true of childhood experiences. If you grew up in the Piedmont of North Carolina in the fifties and sixties, there was plenty of heat.
Air conditioning wasn’t even a dream until late in the fifties. People put awnings on their homes to help with the heat. Long trips in the car required riding with the windows rolled down. Cars had funny little vent windows that you turned to help get air flowing through the vehicle. There were also side air vents for the floorboard controlled by knobs just under the dash.
Summer was not complete without thunderstorms. Storms brought rain and were as much a normal part of life as fireflies at night. The most memorable storms were the ones when I was camping as a Boy Scout at Camp Raven Knob between Mt. Airy, NC and Low Gap, Virginia.
Thunderstorms could easily catch you outside at camp. We spent those summer weeks in wall tents pitched over wooden platforms. You didn’t spend much time in your tent so getting caught in the rain was a part of life at camp. No one worried about not being in air conditioning while at camp because no one had air conditioning at home.
We also knew that a thunderstorm at night would likely make the cold mountain water in Lake Sobotta even cooler for our morning swims.
Schools weren’t even air conditioned. They actually had windows that opened and closed. Some teachers even brought fans for those last days of school when the heat seems to take up residence in the school walls.
My memories of vacations at the North Carolina coast are of small cottages a few blocks from the beach. The long trip even in a car without air conditioning was memorable mostly for the picnic that often broke up the trip. There would be fried chicken and country ham biscuits along with Cokes in small glass bottles. Lunch at the beach was often tomato sandwiches made from tomatoes that were brought from home.
No one expected a beach vacation insulated from the weather. Part of the fun at the beach just like at camp was being at the mercy of the weather whether it was the bright sun or a thunderstorm. I can still remember sitting on a bench at the trading post and watching a heavy thunderstorm at camp. The ocean or lake water could be warm one day and cool the next day if storms had rolled through during the night.
In 2011 and 2012 the weather along North Carolina’s Crystal Coast was abnormally dry. We were in a drought punctuated by a few periods of wet weather for nearly two years. During the summer of 2011, our area of Carteret County along the eastern shore of the White Oak River received just 1.85 inches of rain in total from May 1 until July 31.
The dry weather short circuited our normal summer weather. With the ground so dry, it was hard for the evaporation that helps to spark the thunderstorms to take place. Without thunderstorms, we got drier. Thunderstorms also help cool the waters in the area. In an area like Carteret County which is over 60% water, the water temperature plays a big role in our evening temperature. Cooling breezes from the water are a big part of what makes the beach an area that is so attractive to visitors in the summer.
Summer in 2012 in our neighborhood along the Crystal Coast seems much more like a normal coastal North Carolina summer. Rain has been a very welcome visitor at our dock this summer, and I am sure that places like the Aquarium and the Maritime Museum have seen an increase in attendance.
Though a rainy day might keep us off the water or prevent us from visiting the beaches, rain is essential to keeping our area the natural paradise that it is. That we are an area where beach traffic is almost a non issue has a lot to do with the marshes and woods that are nourished by those summer thunderstorms that are now back as a part of our life.
It is a good thing that being at the beach forces folks to deal with the natural elements. Our modern world has created such an insulated existence that many folks don’t know how to enjoy a national park unless they have a cable television controller in their hand.