August occasions

The author feeling camera shy (right)

As I write, this last week of July, my thoughts turn to August. Our relationship is complicated, as they say. August is my birth month, but also the month I lost my mom. Even in childhood, August was a mixed month for me. On one hand, it meant a birthday party, presents, a trip somewhere; Hershey Park, perhaps. But it also meant summer was soon over, school about to begin. That, of course, meant shopping for school clothes, an all-day event that called for, in my younger years, a taxi ride downtown to shop with my mom after work, and later, for a trip, or several, to any number of malls.

One year, August meant a wedding in which I was the Jr. bridesmaid. For some reason, the bride decided on gowns of white satin and navy velvet. Who wears that in August? Or was that a normal choice in 1969? My memory of the day is not of the wedding, but of a photo in which my back is turned to the camera. My hair! Soon I will be just like Cher.

As an adult, traveling from one state to another, August meant varied things. In Alaska, August was the likeliest month you could water ski without a wetsuit, but also a time when termination dust appeared on the mountaintops. Likewise, in the Rockies, you could safely assume mountain biking would be snow free, although a September blizzard, even at lower elevations, was not unheard of.

This year, August is a month of travel. First, to a writers’ conference where I’ve signed up to pitch my novel and a memoir to two different agents. I hate pitching, and have somehow managed to avoid it for much of my career. I tried it for the first time last year and bombed. The editor I was pitching asked one question, which I failed to answer to her satisfaction or even very accurately, and I spent the next seven of the allotted eight minutes feeling acutely uncomfortable. Don’t ask me why I not only signed up (and paid) to do it again, not once, but twice, because I’m not sure I know.

Once I get past that daunting weekend, I can chill and look forward to celebrating my birthday. I’m not sure if I am supposed to grow out of the whole birthday bash thing, but I doubt I will. I think we all need those days when we treat ourselves to something special. For me, that’s meant Las Vegas, Martha’s Vineyard, Boston and, one year, Seattle, where I discovered I was partying with folks attending HEMPFEST. In Vancouver, BC, I was given the red light at customs and made to sit in a back room with no explanation for 20 minutes. I still have no idea what that was about, but I do know the minute the customs agent asked what I was doing there, then frowned at my explanation (“It’s my birthday!), I was screwed. This year, I will stick close to the coast, no doubt with some time at the casino — though I am a lame gambler to say the least.

I’m headed home to PA at the end of the month, a time I generally resist visiting because odds are it will be hot as Hades and probably with humidity to the moon. The kind of sweaty wet weather that sees your mascara streaking down your cheeks, wreaking havoc worse than any mere tears. I can recall August days of walking from the air conditioned mall to the outside and feeling I might smother under the wet blanket of heat. One co-worker actually fainted.

Just now, however, I’m guessing my friends and family back home would happily settle for such miserable weather. They are once again enduring another round of flooding — bridges and roads washed out, basements filling, roofs leaking. At least in serious heat, you can go jump in a pool, stand by the air conditioner or stick your head in the freezer. In a flood, all you can do is keep an eye on all that is rising and hope it’s not in your backyard.

It’s still too early to know what kind of weather we are in for when we fly back east, though it seems almost certain there will be at least one thunderstorm. And of course, though I’ll complain about it mightily, I’ll still take heat and humidity over floods.

Lori Tobias is the author of the novel “Wander” and a journalist of many years. Follow her at

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