It must have been about 1953. Dickinson, North Dakota – hotter than hell. In fact, I think if there is a hell, it is probably modeled on summer in North Dakota. One small metal fan in the kitchen. Sweating all night in a room with an open window and no air movement. The music hit of the summer was How Much Is that Doggie in the Window.
One blazing summer day, in an attempt to beat the heat, my big sister took me to the the town’s outdoor swimming pool. Now, that old pool had to have the coldest water I’ve ever felt in my life. Just thinking of it can still send a shiver up my spine. I could never get past the kidding wading pool water up to my thighs. Nope. No one could get me to dunk myself. It felt like liquid ice – and it never got warmer as the day went on.
There was never getting used to this cold – it drove itself into your body and took up residence long after you got out. I remember it being incredibly hot on every part of my body everywhere except in those areas under the water – which was one big goose bump. So you were sweating on top and freezing on the bottom. Periodically, you’d crawl out on the concrete surround that was the temperature of a thermonuclear explosion and try to get the feeling back in your feet. Looking back I don’t remember anyone ever trying to swim laps. They’d have probably gotten a cramp and drowned.
That particular day everyone got sent home when a big summer storm with thunder and lightning was blowing in. We were about a block away from Grandma’s house when my sister heard something, looked over her shoulder and screamed. I looked and there was a moving white wall pounding on the street right behind us. It was gaining.
We took off running for our lives. I remember looking over my shoulder as my sister dragged me after her, faster and faster. It is nothing short of a miracle that I didn’t fall down. There we were running barefoot down the street, our feet slapping hot asphalt as the that moving wall of hail was banging on cars and shredding the leaves on trees as it thundered ever closer to us.
I was about 4. My sister was about 14. My little legs could not keep up with hers so about three houses away from Grandma’s she reached down, picked me up, and ran for everything she was worth. If we kept up at the rate I could run we’d have been sunk. I could see the wall of ice closing on us.
The hail smashed into the house seconds after the screen door on the summer porch slammed shut behind us. I remember the enormous roar of the hail as it hammered on the house. I don’t know what would have happened to us if it had caught us, but it wouldn’t have been good. She probably saved both our lives.
I’ve seen heavy hail since then, but nothing compares to that incredible storm. And 60 years later I’ve never experienced a swimming pool that icy. North Dakotans are tough!