I’m looking at the calendar this morning and the date is Nov. 13. According to folks in the know, Indian summer should be along shortly.
We all kind of know what Indian summer is, a brief period in November when there is a series of warm and sunny days. The only thing is, this is only partly correct.
Consulting the time-honored Old Farmer’s Almanac before the sun came up this morning, I am feeling much more edjumicated about what makes an authentic Indian summer.
Officially, it takes place anytime between Nov. 11 and 20, so we still have some time. Not only are the days sunny, they also have to be on the hazy or smoky side. The nights must be clear and chilly following at least one heavy frost.
Write this stuff down. There will be a quiz next week.
I don’t know that anyone celebrated Indian summer officially back when I was in school. We talked about it, but never really heard the reason why it got its name. Other than an illustration or two in the Weekly Reader or Highlights magazine, it was a non-event.
Somewhere along the way, I heard someone explain that those foolish oldtimers thought they could raise one last crop during this short time in the fall. I think that observer may have been a city guy who bought all his pumpkins and corn at a supermarket.
Another and more plausible explanation is that the early settlers were always happy when cooler weather arrived and they didn’t have to set a heavy guard around crop harvesters. Unfortunately, unfriendly Native Americans knew this and took advantage of one last fling during good weather.
I don’t know. If we were surrounded by unfriendly natives these days, we might be in a lot of trouble. Late fall and early winter tend to be rather milder these days than they were during the colonial period.
Then again, after looking at the semi long-range weather forecast for Thanksgiving week this year, we might be able to give a sigh of relief. Accuweather is keeping an eye on a storm system that might develop next week, just in time for slick trips by family members coming in for Thanksgiving.
There is no guarantee that we will have fair weather at this time of year. Some of my best weather-related stories occurred in the days surrounding Thanksgiving.
I think I have bored you with my first experience driving in snow. Picture it: South Bethlehem, 1971. Dad made me help him change the tires on our Volkswagen Beetle before we headed out on the snowy roads after a planned Thanksgiving service at church had been canceled.
Okay. Fair enough. Dad’s insistence on my learning valuable skills contributed to my later nickname of Gus the Mechanic, a badge of honor.
But on that snowy evening when I was 16, I was no Mario Andretti or Dario Franchitti. I was more like Mrs. Magoo.
I grew up near the sharp Route 28/66 curve in South Bethlehem. I’d rounded that bend a hundred times in the nine months since I had learned to drive, but even the best driver’s ed teacher couldn’t prepare me for six inches of wet snow.
There is a first time for everything. Sliding sideways in a motorized vehicle is one of the more memorable. It was also the first time I produced that sound of an inhaled breath turning into a scream.
After Dad stopped laughing, we drove through Bostonia and into Distant, making a left turn without a major sliding incident onto today’s Pheasant Farm Road. I think. Your mind blanks out some details to protect your sanity.
Anyway, I remember driving along some back roads on Beautiful Lookout and sliding around a sharp curve near Mt. Zion cemetery. Dad was still laughing as I recall, so that means I kept us out of a ditch. And then I had to drive down the hill through Oak Ridge, go under the railroad underpass, hang a left and deal with another sharp curve in Alcola.
That is the stuff of legends and character building.
That happened more than 45 years ago and I still laugh about it. My daughter never understood how I could remain so calm while she was learning to drive, or why I never burst into tears when I had to drive during the winters of 1992 and 1993 in central Pennsylvania.
Those were some legendary winters, and the roads started getting slick at the beginning of November. There was no pondering the celebration of Indian summer in those years because it never happened. We went from warm fall weather to a five-month Snowmageddon overnight.
Getting back to Thanksgiving, there was an ice storm that rolled through back in the mid ‘90s. I had visited my family back here while my daughter spent the holiday with her father’s clan, so I was taking I-80 back to State College alone.
The freezing rain would have been quite enough, thank you. But every spare 18-wheeler between Illinois and Ohio decided to join me on my journey. Yes, there was a steady string of brake lights between Brookville and Bellefonte.
I think of those trips and just wanted to share some of those stories with parents or grandparents who make that journey. Survive a few back-to-college trips like that in the central part of the state and you laugh at the winter storm warnings around here.
From what I have read for a month or so, the weather forecasters’ Ouija boards are calling for more snow than average, but seasonable temperatures. I may yet have occasion to spin some yarns of driving over hill, over dale back in the dark ages of the ‘90s.
With any luck, our families will have smooth sailing for Thanksgiving. In the meantime, keep an eye out for Indian summer. I think we are still allowed to call it that because Native American Warm Spell sounds kind of lumpy and dull.
Mind you, I’m not a climate-change denier nor am I an unquestioning fan of the theory. I’m saying that some of the folks aligned with that movement are no fun and spoil things for the rest of us.
So, Indian summer it has been, is now and will be.