25

Jul 2011

In The News: Gansett And A Heat Wave

With the recent heat wave, Nashua Telegraph columnist Dean Shalhoup ran a feature reminiscing about how his family kept cool in the days before AC. He mentions his great uncle drinking Gansett while on the lake. Here’s the full story:

A heat wave for the ages

By Dean Shalhoup for the Nashua Telegraph

Besides trying to devise clever, and cheap, ways to cope when hit by weather extremes like this grody hot spell, one thing we always seem to do is think back and wonder how our parents and their parents got by in the days before refrigeration and air conditioning.

Swimming holes, for one; every neighborhood had one. And no matter how small, smelly or weed-infested, they were packed with kids from May to September.

People, especially kids, were different then – if they could make it through two world wars, Herbert Hoover, the Depression, the Dust Bowl and Joe McCarthy, then fixing up swimming holes was cake.

But for all the deprivations they overcame, there’s one that still makes me wonder how they did without: vocabulary.

Yes, words and expressions. Just how, I ask, do you endure a July heat wave without being able to fully express yourself?

What the heck did they say, for instance, when struck by the rather unsavory and uncomfortable heat-related conditions we refined 21st century wordsmiths have at long last dubbed “swass” and “swoobs?”

I remember being knee-high to Grandpa’s cane and hearing the old folks toss out what I thought were some pretty clever heat wave ditties that almost sang through their blend of old-country idioms and down-home dialect.

“Yuh, hotter than the hinges of Hades,” was one that Great-Uncle sometimes grunted between puffs of Raleigh filters and glugs of ’Gansett.

Great-Uncle had a lakeside camp and the requisite dock. His smallish aluminum boat with the covered bow and 40-horse Johnson was tied to one side, and the other was raked out for a little swimming area.

I remember him grousing a couple of times that it was too hot to even go for a boat ride, mostly because his six-pack of ’Gansett would be warm before he even got to the bridge – but also because he once burned his backside on the exposed aluminum seat.

Who’d know that all these years later, we’d have an actual term for his affliction? Yes, Great-Uncle had a good case of swass.

If the odd-looking colloquialism has you stumped, first realize that many of the “hippest” terms these days are created by melding a couple of common adjectives and nouns (such as “sweaty,” for instance), then use your imagination.

Yes, the possibilities are endless.

Of all the body parts the “sw” prefix can apply to, the one I’ve yet to hear is sweaty feet, but maybe that’s because “sweet” would seem counterintuitive.

Similarly, would you “swear” angrily if you were burdened with sweaty hair?

Do you remember that Johnny Carson bit where he’d say, “It was so hot today …” and the audience shot back, “How hot was it?”

He’d reel off a series of classic Carson responses zinging politicians or pop stars or even Ed McMahon.

Jay Leno had one funny one a couple years ago: “Today it was 95 and hazy … like John McCain.”

Another Carsonism: “It was so hot, I saw a robin dipping his worm in Nestea.”

Some states have their own collection of “It was so hot that …” phrases, among them Arizona and Texas, of course. I figured if they can coin their own, surely we, as the far more clever and resourceful Northeasterners – OK, Nashuans – that we are, can surely kick their Southern you-know-whats.

Therefore, we offer up a few of our “Nashua-centric” turns to the old catchphrase, carefully selected for your enjoyment.

“It was so hot today that …

“… The Nashua Police legalized streaking for the day.”

“… Nobody complained about being stuck in line at the DMV – at least it was air conditioned.”

“… Mayor Lozeau was spotted on a step stool at JFK’s memorial bust wiping his brow.”

“… Dana Farwell led a funeral procession past the cemetery and into Hayward’s parking lot.”

“… Fred Teeboom publicly praised city officials for paying extra to air-condition local cooling centers.

“… Nashua House regulars crowded in the kitchen to eat because it was cooler near the pizza ovens than at the tables and booths.”

“… Nashua Country Club opened a second pool – in the former curling rink.”

“… The horseshoe players at Greeley Park were seen wearing oven mitts.”

“… Girl Scouts were spotted making s’mores on the park’s playground slide.”

“… Four teens were charged with trespassing after sneaking into the walk-in cooler at Jeannotte’s Market and spending the night.”

“… Philip Scontsas showed up to work without a suit coat or tie.”

And finally: “It was so hot in Nashua today that Bernie Streeter was caught skinny-dipping in a pond in the Pennichuck watershed.”