A month you can depend on

Opinion: Ken Trainor

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By Ken Trainor

Staff writer

July saved me this year. The first six months of 2019, to say the least, underperformed weather-wise. From polar vortex to unseasonably chilly and soggy. Twenty-three degrees below zero in January (don't even ask about wind chill). Gloomy and wet almost every day in June, it seemed. Not everyone complained. Some like it cool, but it felt as if we lost a full month of summer — and summers are precious. Some of us don't have that many left.

My friends tell me not to be such a weather kvetch, but this year was definitely different. It seemed like the dress rehearsal for a climate-impaired future. What if the "new normal" is dramatically more hostile? Last week, I hear, it was 109 degrees in Paris. Each year sets a new mark for the hottest on record worldwide. Thomas Friedman, in his book, Thank You for Being Late, says we're coming to the end of the Holocene Age — before most of us even knew there was a name for what we took for granted. The Holocene Epoch is/was an idyllic, Garden-of-Eden utopia compared to what we're in for. Thanks to our foolish ways, we're replacing a predictable, temperate, pacific climate with unpredictable, hostile extremes: drought, floods, storms of biblical proportions. In late April, we enjoyed a near-perfect Easter Sunday — sandwiched between heavy, wet snowfalls the weekend before and the weekend after. 


We elders may not see the worst of it, but our children and grandchildren certainly will. Will they/we soon reach a point where there is no summer at all as we remember them? When we're forced to spend most of our time indoors? As of the last week of June, I was seriously beginning to wonder. I'll bet park district pool revenues were way down at that point.

But July came to the rescue. We finally started drying out and warming up. Normally I don't like to see the grass browning, but this year it was reassuring. 

I've mentioned this before, but July is my favorite month, the only month of the year unencumbered by school (if you don't count summer school), so people are more detached from the normal grind. It's also a good month for vacation (and vacation memories). If summer were a weekend, July would be Saturday, buffered nicely by June and August. It is generally the month with the most stable weather, and after our long Midwestern winters, like solar batteries, we need to store up as much sunshine and outdoor time as we can get.

Some could make a case for September-October (the best hyphenated double month), but July has long been the single month I most count on, especially as we approach the end of being able to count on any month. 

This year, July really came through when I needed it.

The memories I take to fortify me through the coming months are many: Ivy dangling from the overpass on Oak Park Avenue, creating a virtual gateway to summer. Walking home through the early afternoon peace of Oak Park neighborhoods following the July 4th parade. Stray tootsie rolls smashed in the middle of Ridgeland Avenue as we marched. Eating ice cream outside Petersen's on a mellow, timeless afternoon. Monarch butterflies dancing among the milkweed and purple coneflowers that line the prairie gauntlet in the middle of Mills Park. Wandering in River Forest, or any place where the wind rustling through the leaves is by far the dominant sound. A young girl wearing headphones, head tilted, listening to music as she rides her bike in the morning cool. A pack of boys pedaling their bikes with furious abandon. The glow in the northwest sky, lingering past 9 p.m. in the evening. A shaded bench that turns into a welcome sanctuary. People in deck and lawn chairs clustered around the Festival Theatre stage in Austin Gardens under the lights, listening to stentorian declamations of the theatrical kind. Water sprinklers generously offering their wayward sprays to cool passing pedestrians. Queen Anne's lace, blooming unbidden in untended front yard crevices, beckoning to be plucked for Mom bouquets. Big billowing clouds with grey underbellies that tease with the prospect of a passing shower as they glide over flatland. The moon, bearing silent witness to the 50th anniversary of the lunar landing. A two-hour bike ride on the Prairie Path, heading south from Wheaton, three buddies from high school, so familiar and normal, except for being encased now in 67-year-old bodies. Taking my 5-year-old buddies to the Little Red Schoolhouse for a playdate with Serafina, who is to expressed personality what nuclear fission is to energy release. Sitting in bright red seats at Pritzker Pavilion on a balmy summer evening, listening to Broadway-caliber voices render show tunes, and falling in love with "Falling in Love with Love" all over again while the pastel lights bounce back and forth against the curved metal bandshell sheets. A walking tour of Hyde Park and the University of Chicago's past and present. Driving through a driving deluge to Ravinia where the clouds magically parted and passed over and gave way to Bernstein's Mass, the best Mass I've attended since, well, last year when I first saw it, the cast still including OPRF grad John Clay III. Back in the Pritzker Pavilion seats to watch the 1962 film Music Man, with subtitles no less so we don't miss any of Meredith Willson's splendiferous heartland wordplay. Ambling past Chicago Riverwalk cafes, watching tour boats skim beneath bridges, gliding along like a French Impressionist painting brought to life. Reading life-altering books slowly in the middle of the night, books that open a mind to the wonder of being alive.

July is the month when I finally resort to shorts, bathing blanched skin in sunlight therapy. Sure we had a few days with the heat index above 100 — no month is perfect — but July provided one more go-round to savor just in case the entire month tops 100 degrees next year — or dives into the 40s, underwater.

Thanks and farewell, July, until next year …

We trust.

Email: ktrainor@wjinc.com

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Reader Comments

3 Comments - Add Your Comment

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Brian Slowiak  

Posted: August 3rd, 2019 9:22 AM

Who is Blanche?

Brian Slowiak  

Posted: August 3rd, 2019 9:16 AM

The mere thought of ken Trainor in "shorts , bathing blanched skin in sunlight therapy" makes me yearn for winter.

Brent Borgerson  

Posted: August 2nd, 2019 6:51 PM

"Kenster" Is this "high summer" then?,

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