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Four Years at the Mount

Sophomore year

A new kind of leash

Kyle Ott

(8/2012) It’s hard to beat the heat without AC, but that’s exactly what two intrepid young boys set out to do one hot August day. The oppressive heat coupled with the sweltering light of the sun made for an impossible adversary, a foe made all the more intimidating by the boys’ small size and insignificant ages. Despite all these things working against them, these two unlikely heroes set out to make the Dog Days of August their family pet.

The above encounter, while being only slightly (ok, maybe more than that) embellished for creative reasons, was exactly the sort of thing that my younger brother Kollin and I set out to accomplish many years ago when we had left our birthplace in New York and moved to Pennsylvania to be closer to our mother’s parents. In addition to the normal rigors associated with moving, we also had to contend with a change in the way we lived, trading one kind of house for a completely different one. In a very short period of time, we abandoned our clean, climate-controlled apartments in Cortland and moved to a small house on a hill in central Pennsylvania. The house was a cramped affair for a family of four. Though small, it was a quaint place to raise two rambunctious boys; it lacked one vital trait necessary for surviving the August heat: air conditioning.

Thus, my parents were faced with a conundrum: how do you raise two small children in a house that is equal parts home sweet home and hotbox? The solution, while simple, proved to be the source of success for our mission of summer survival. What was this clever solution you may ask? Simply, we had to find ways to stay out of the house. It may sound unorthodox (and let me tell you, it was), but the concept proved to be utterly successful in its execution. As long as there were fun ways to get out of the house and distract us from the heat, we could easily survive the long summer days and slink back home when the sun had set and the nights were crisp. With our enterprising mother, a dedicated father, and two boys who could easily be amused by a paper bag, empty or otherwise, we had no shortage of entertaining excuses to leave our house. My brother and I set out to beat the heat in style with tons of ideas and our eagerness to use them.

One way that my brother and I would beat the heat that August was to make a solemn quest to visit every single public playground in the area and rate them on a scale. We judged every playground as shrewdly as an experienced merchant would examine his wares. We measured how high the swing-sets could take us into the air, how fast we could spiral down the slides and how much monkeying we could do on the monkey bars. Of course, such decisions had to be made thoroughly, and as such we devoted a day to playing on each playground to make sure it was properly tested. It didn’t matter to us that the heat continued to beat down on us; we had all the toys we could ever want. Distracted as we were by our task, we were able to completely ignore the heat and squeeze a week’s worth of fun out of our public parks. Culminating this week (and coincidentally occurring on one of the hottest days in August), we crowned one playground the greatest of them all and devoted an entire day to playing on it and appreciating our personal favorite.

When the days turned too hot for even our adventurous spirits, we turned to a little hole in the wall haven: a tiny candy store called Georges. This little store in Hanover carried every kind of candy imaginable, from sour peach gummies to fourteen kinds of Tootsie Rolls. The elderly couple who ran and owned the store, not for profit but for the community’s enjoyment, was incredibly accommodating to a pair of energetic young kids and was always pleased when we’d walk through the door. My brother and I would be given a single dollar (a virtual fortune to us) that we could spend on whatever we wanted. So, much like a kid in a candy store (pun intended), we would whittle away the hours munching on sweets and enjoying life.

My brother and I then turned our attention from playing around to learning something about ourselves and the world around us. We embarked on the now legendary "Library Tour." In order to escape record temperatures, we devoted a week of our time to journey to every public library within driving distance and spend an afternoon reading the works inside. The immediate benefit of this epic sojourn was being able to get out of the sweltering streets and into lovely climate-controlled buildings. The true benefit, however, came from the appreciation of knowledge that was being fostered right under our noses. When we toddled into a library we were treating it much as we had treated those first playgrounds: as places with things inside for our amusement. In reality, a love for learning and an appreciation for the written word were being engrained into our minds, an appreciation that persists even to this day.

While these stories may seem like a window into a simpler, more innocent time, they help to illustrate an important point about human ingenuity and the ability to face adversity head on. Overcoming something as simple as the August heat may not seem like much, but the skills honed by defeating small challenges can cause the kind of personal growth that can lead to amazing changes down the road. For example, when I think back to the days when I was unsure of what I was going to do with my life and I first considered a career in English, my thoughts turned back to those summer days spent among the stacks of our public libraries, curled up with a book that stimulated my imagination and my mind in equal measure. Those formative days have led up to my decision to pursue writing as a career, attend Mount St. Mary’s University, and begin writing for The Emmitsburg News- Journal.

So the next time the sun beats down upon you, or you’re drowning in a wave of heat, treat the heat as a challenge and allow the summer to mold you into a stronger person. After all, it only takes a little ingenuity to take the snarling Dog Days of August, and make them faithful companions. I’m Kyle Ott; won’t you sit and read with me for a while?

Read other articles by Kyle Ott