Our house on Short Hills Drive in Bath, Ohio had an asphalt driveway. The driveway ran up a small hill, took a right turn to the garage, and had a big open area at the top of the hill where Mom and Dad had put up a basketball hoop.
On blistering summer days, the sun would heat the asphalt, and you could catch a whiff of tar and feel the heat radiating off the black surface. On those days I liked to walk barefoot on the driveway, to take in the smell and the scorching heat and see how long my feet could stand it. It’s one of those things that will always mean “summer” to me.
I was reminded of this today as I was out walking to do a few errands. It was hot and the sun was shining brightly. As I walked I passed a freshly paved asphalt parking lot, smelled that smell, and felt that heat, and the sensory experiences brought it all back. I started to think about how much I enjoyed walking barefoot on hot asphalt, and how I hadn’t done it in years. So when I got closer to home, and I passed an empty parking lot that was ablaze in the sunshine, I couldn’t resist. I took off my sneakers and socks and set out across the lot, feeling the burn on the soles of my feet.
My feet aren’t as tough and calloused as they used to be, and after a few laps around the tarry surface I was ready to step off and put my shoes back on. But my little barefoot exercise felt good. In fact, it felt exactly like summer.
When I was a kid, this was an exceptionally dangerous time of year. The warmer temperatures would lead to melting snow, and the melting snow would lead to slush, and the slush would lead to the risk of the dreaded slush ball. The slush ball, of course, was like a snowball, except a thousand times more painful and potentially destructive. Whereas a snowball, now matter how firmly packed, is always light and fluffy, the slush ball is a more compact and lethal missile of wet, granular snow, ice shards, and water. The snowball strikes its target with an airy “piff”-like sound. The successfully hurled slush ball, on the other hand, gives off a loud, wet “thwack.” Snowballs can be casually shrugged off. Slush balls, on the other hand, immediately drip down your neck or the front of your shirt, leaving a wet, gritty trail.
In my old neighborhood, on Short Hills Drive in Bath, Ohio, the slush ball expert was a red-headed kid named Kenny Rumbaugh. He was a few years older than we were, and bigger besides. If you were outside on a wet end-of-winter day, you had to keep an eye out for Rumbaugh. If you were careless you could suddenly find him behind you, tossing the slush ball with astonishing accuracy at the collar line of your winter coat and then slapping you on the back to ensure that the slush ball broke apart and the water and ice slid down your back with maximum chilling effect. And the neck shot was actually preferable to the alternative. If you got clobbered in the face with the slush ball, it knocked your glasses off, stung like crazy, and left an obvious red mark.
There was no defense against the slush ball. In the arsenal of childhood weapons, it was the atomic bomb.