I recall as a youngster in the 1950s people talking about the "dog days" of summer. I had no idea what that meant.
But, sometimes when I heard the words on really hot days, my sisters and I got into our bathing suits and mother packed up the station wagon with a blanket, towels and a picnic lunch. Off we went to one of the nearby lakes.
No one in our neighborhood had air conditioning or a swimming pool. So, the lake was the best way to cool off.
One of our favorites was the public beach at Pontoosuc Lake. When we got there, we were lucky when our mother would pay for a ride or two on the carousel near the parking lot or take us on a jaunt on the passenger boat, the Sheila, before we immersed in the cool water.
I remember those long docks below the concession stand and the bathhouse with tanned lifeguards stationed to watch us as we paddled around in the shallow area behind the ropes and floats. I marveled at the teens who really did swim out to the floating dock, way over my head.
Trips to the beach were real treats in childhood, but some dog days, we just settled for running through a lawn sprinkler in the backyard and a nickel popsicle from the ice cream truck.
I still wasn't sure why those hot summer days were called the dog days of summer. I thought every day was a dog day for my pooch, Queenie. Her name was fitting, as she was treated like royalty in our family.
She got to run free in the neighborhood, as there were no leash laws. More people knew her by name than knew any of us, and they gave her countless treats. She had two or three meals a day, supplemented with scraps that we sneaked under the table. Queenie didn't worry about pooper-scoopers or dog parks, as neither were practices in the '50s. Every day was her dog day!
As I got older, I figured "dog days of summer" must have been when it was so hot that Queenie would just lay on the stoop for hours panting with her tongue hanging out and that was how the phrase began. Well, I was wrong: The expression had nothing to do with real dogs.
It was translated from the words of the ancient Roman astronomers who studied the stars. In accordance with the calendars of the time between July and September, the brightest star in the sky, known as Sirius, rises and sets with the sun.
During this time, the sun occupies the same region of the sky as Sirius, and the Romans believed that because the star is so bright, it gave off heat, adding to the sun's warmth. Hence, the weather was super hot and sultry.
The star is part of the constellation Canis Major, or the Great Dog, and Sirius is sometimes called the Dog Star. If one imagines the constellation forms the outline of a dog, then Sirius is located in the front, on the dog's chest.
The superstitious ancients referred to the dog days not only as the hottest time of the year, but as a period that could bring bad luck and even catastrophes. The dog days of summer are officially between July 3 and Aug. 11, and they have been hot ones so far, hitting over 90 degrees for several days in my neck of the woods.
I do miss those days at Pontoosuc with the floating dock and miss my dog, Queenie, too. But, this year I wouldn't have missed those dog days of summer if they had decided to take a break.
I also wonder if any readers have actually tried to fry an egg on the sidewalk during those dog days. It's another phrase I recall hearing many times as a kid.
Jim Shulman, a Pittsfield native living in Ohio, is the author of "Berkshire Memories: A Baby Boomer Looks Back at Growing Up in Pittsfield." If you have a memory of a Berkshire baby-boom landmark, business or event you'd like to share or read about, please write Jim at email@example.com.