My grandfather’s house had a sleeping porch, which, as far as I could tell, was his favorite room in the whole house. Beneath it was the sunporch, which ran a close second. But the sleeping porch had an almost mystical feel to it, part of which was that it was high up, next to treetops. My grandfather loved the hot nights when he could sleep out there. The sleeping porch was a big room, open on three sides, with several daybeds with Indian-print spreads. Screening covered the window openings, and for privacy there were bamboo shades that rolled down but would still allow air to pass through.
I was very young, not even 10, but I remember sleeping out there with my grandfather. I would sometimes spend the weekend at my grandparents’, and we would usually play cards before bedtime. For this, my grandparents had a wicker table and some chairs out on the porch. My grandmother would carry orange juice and pecan cookies upstairs on a tray and we would play hearts through the heat of the night. In between turns, my grandmother would lean back in her chair. She held her cards in a fan. She would touch the tip of each card with her finger, and then, once sure of her hand, she would use the fan to cool herself. Outside, the din of the cicadas faded in and out as if to dramatize the heat’s energy, while the katydids countered with their short, scratchy reply.
After we folded the last hand, my grandfather would settle into the bed beside the west window, and my sister and I would climb into the beds to the north. My grandmother would kiss us good-night and tell us to remember to lie really still, which would keep us cooler than if we tossed about in frustration. Then she would disappear into the bedroom adjoining the porch.
“Think of ice floating on a river,” my grandfather would say, before falling into a snore.
I don’t remember any hot nights here in New Hampshire to equal those hot nights in New Jersey. Up here on the hill, there is almost always a breeze and there are no cicadas or even katydids. But we do have heat. Intense heat wicks my energy, and I sometimes find myself sitting in a lawn chair, drinking iced tea, when I ought to be doing something more energetic. I often wonder how anything gets done in southern climates. Which is why I live where I do: Twenty below zero never gets in my way so much as a hot, humid 95 degrees.
I hope it goes without saying that I do not have air conditioning in my house. Open windows and a good fan are all I need to make myself comfortable. But during hot spells, the urge to sleep outside still comes over me. I have a small open porch, which has screening from top to bottom. It’s big enough for a few chairs and a table. In the corner, I’ve pushed an old daybed against the screens. On really hot nights, I’ll take my pillow out onto the porch and settle onto the couch. Lying there in the still heat, I can hear nighthawks and owls. Sometimes I hear animals crashing about in the thicket. As I drift off to sleep, I pretend I’m a block of ice, floating on a river. What I miss, though, is the hot noise of the cicadas and the gentle snoring of my grandfather.
This essay originally appeared in the July/August 2003 issue ofYankee. To learn more about Edie Clark, read her selected articles and essays, or order her books, go to edieclark.com.