Meeting the in-laws during a heat waveIf you were asked to name the worst natural disaster that happened in the 20th Century, you might guess that it was a hurricane, tornado or blizzard.
By: Judy Spooner, South Washington County Bulletin
If you were asked to name the worst natural disaster that happened in the 20th Century, you might guess that it was a hurricane, tornado or blizzard.
The Galveston Hurricane in 1900 killed 12,000 people but in second place was the heat wave of 1936 that resulted in the death of 5,000 people from the Midwest to the East Coast.
It was also the year that my mother, 16, met the parents who would become her in-laws four years later.
It was very warm in June of that year and records were set for spells of hot weather that still stand.
In July, the highest recorded temperature in Minnesota was 114 degrees.
In South Minneapolis where my parents were raised, people slept on lawns outside their homes, my dad said. Mom said people walked to city lakes to sleep on the shorelines.
The highest recorded temperature in the nation happened in North Dakota at 122 degrees.
There were also long stretches of hot weather in August, according to weather records, because of a strong ridge of high pressure that sat there until a low pressure moved it off in September.
Agricultural losses, including cattle, were huge and only aggravated Dust Bowl conditions on farms.
Daughter Margie said the Dust Bowl was brought on by drought conditions, but that isn’t the whole story. Disk plows only got to surface soil and crops were not rotated. Commercial fertilizers were not in general use so the land became sterile. It was used up.
To understand how dire the situation was, keep in mind that there was no air conditioning except in some movie theaters in cities.
Hospitals, homes, offices and stores did not have air conditioning so commerce came to a halt.
People did not wear shorts, halter-tops or flip-flops. Women of all ages wore dresses and men wore suits. In warm weather, men took off their jackets and rolled up their shirtsleeves.
Some people cling to the notion that a hard cold winter causes a hot summer. It’s generally not true according to weather stats but it was true in 1936.
My mother, Marjorie May Havier, met my father, George Fletcher Booth, in 1936. Their families lived less than a block apart.
My mom was raised in a family where rules of society were followed. When my grandmother was in public she wore a suit and a hat.
Dad wanted the love of his life to meet his family so one night in July, during the heat wave of the century she was invited to dinner at the Booth home.
My grandfather, George Arthur Booth, was a practical man. If a societal norm didn’t make sense to him, he didn’t follow it.
When my mother approached the Booth home, my grandfather, a sales representative for a wholesale food distributor, was pushing a lawn mower.
Over his boxer shorts underwear, he wore a butcher’s apron with the name of his company on it.
“What did you do?” I asked her after she told me the story when I was a teenager.
“I pretended not to notice,” she said. “It was way too hot to do anything else.”
Judy Spooner can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.