Skin Jobs and Summer Tarts

By Carol Ann Sayle

Yep, it’s summer. Without looking at a calendar, we know, as the season is dripping off our foreheads and running down the middles of our backs. These days, a washcloth is a handy thing to keep in the pants pocket. My father, Chief, sweating in our 1950s drought-stricken San Antonio yard, used to tie a handkerchief around his forehead to catch the salty drips before they burned his eyes. That’s a more hands-free solution, but then the wearer can’t rationalize sweat breaks.

I relish resting, from cultivating or harvesting, the second or two it takes to pull out the quickly dampening rag to mop up the rivulets.

The Marias and Andrea mop their faces, too. Sometimes we swipe in unison, like an incendiary ballet, and the four of us look at each other and just laugh. Nothing can be done about the heat anyway (así es la vida), so we might as well be cheerful about it. At least our fingers and toes aren’t frozen to the point of pain. We remind ourselves of that and declare we’d rather work in sullen heat than in bitter cold. Every season has its benefits, its torments…and its attire.

For summer, the Marias dress as if it were still cool weather: long pants, long-sleeved shirts and hats. Andrea, equally swathed, prefers to wear a mopping towel on top of her head—a close-to-the-face combination of style and function. I used to cover up, too, until I learned about vitamin D deficiencies. Now a convert to the theory that vitamin D protects me from every malady known to man, I daringly go sleeveless.

And the experts say we should uncover even more skin. They recommend at least 40 percent of the body be exposed for about 15 minutes at noon, and that sunscreen lotions be eschewed. Though we agree that none of us wants sunblock grease mixed with our sweat, we imagine that drop-in visitors might be horrified at a bunch of scantily clad (short shorts and halter tops, perhaps), almost-elderly women picking tomatoes and green beans. We are somewhat concerned about propriety, after all.

For now, I’m content with sleeveless. The only “problem,” however, is that it disqualifies me from picking okra. (Woe is me.) Okra, sporting lemon-yellow, crimson-throated hibiscus flowers that demurely close up at noon, demands a prudish picker. The harvester must be covered from head to fingertips, toes and everything else. Okra will punish a skin-showing, vitamin D–loving tart with an itch that rivals all but poison ivy’s, and it will send her running to water and soap with a pace that will definitely induce more sweating!

Alas, it’s my extreme luck that the conservative Marias are dressed just right for picking okra. It’s nice, though. They think that they, too, are lucky, for it’s “stand-up work!”

Ah, summer on the farm. It’s not for tarts, nor the unlucky. But if you’ve got a mop-rag, it could be for you.