Listen to Justin read this piece: Hope Mills
Summers in North Carolina are hot. Impossibly hot. It’s the kind of hot that gives one pause when he reads a thermometer. “It says 80 degrees, but that can’t be right,” you tell yourself. “It must be broken.” The weatherman, too, is wrong. Eighty doesn’t feel like THIS. Eighty is doable. But this, this is hell.
The weatherman uses terms like “humidity” and “heat index” to explain why it feels so hot, but these things don’t matter when you’re outside. None of it does, really. It’s just so damn hot. And unless you’re on the coast or perched on top of a mountain, the wind isn’t much help, either.
Sure, there are places with summers hotter than North Carolina, but as a resident, you believe this only when you’re hearing about them on the radio in your air-conditioned car or from the comfort of your bedroom when Al Roker says something on the Today Show about Nevada: “And a message to keep cool to our friends in Dyer, Nevada, where the temperature today will hit 110!” Roker says. “…And here’s what’s happening in your neck of the woods.”
My neck of the woods happens to be North Carolina. I’m from a town called Hope Mills, 2 hours away from the beach, and home to Hope Mills Lake and Becky’s Cafe. Hope Mills is a place where the Fighting Tigers defend their turf from rival high school football teams and old ladies gather at the senior center to share gossip and play pinochle. It’s a patriotic, cozy town.
Hope Mills is the place I first trick-or-treated. It’s where I spent my first Christmases and my first summers. I had my first “girlfriends” here, my first kiss, my first job, my high school graduation. It’s also the place where my mom and I watched her boyfriend kill himself in ‘92. It’s where I lost my mother in ‘98. Hope Mills is where I made my fondest, as well as my most tragic, memories.
The constant in most of my recollections from Hope Mills is the heat, and its often-unbearable humidity. I remember, for example, sweating through my Superman costume during an early Halloween. I remember Christmases during which we wore our springtime clothes. I remember the crickets chirping, the ambulance lights flashing, and the heat baking—especially the heat—during both aforementioned tragedies.
My family wasn’t wealthy, but neither were we poor. I suppose “lower-middle-class” is appropriate. My mom and I lived in an apartment building subsidized by the government, but I was fortunate enough to have toys and new clothes, albeit from discount stores like Kmart. After she died, I moved in with my brother and sister-in-law, a young and money-conscious couple. Both places—my mom’s house, and later my brother’s house—were warm in the summer. It wasn’t that we didn’t have air conditioning—we did—but inadequate, automatic fans did the heavy lifting on summer nights (A/C is a pricey luxury to some, especially in the South). We’d leave the windows open when it was cool enough. We never needed comforters. I always felt uncomfortable on these nights. It was always sticky, always stale.
I spent 17 years of my life here. I saw 17 summers in Hope Mills. 17 summers of growing up, discovering who I was, and—more importantly—who I wanted to become. But despite all the things I experienced in the North Carolina heat, I didn’t spend a single summer being openly gay. “Gay” was taboo. “Gay” was unacceptable.
All of this comes to mind now because another tragedy unfolded in my home state recently. On May 8, the North Carolina electorate voted for a constitutional prohibition of same-sex marriage. I wasn’t surprised it passed, but when I heard that it had, I suddenly felt hot, as if my boiling childhood memories seized me to present another summertime tragedy.
I miss North Carolina. I miss Hope Mills and its small town charm. It really is a wonderful place. But I’d never live there again. Not without a climate change.
Minnesota’s climate is on the ballot this year. Learn how you can help at MNUnited.org. Facebook.com/JustinJonesWriter