A Month of Sun Days 

by Richard G. Johnstone Jr., Editor

Richard Johnstone
Richard Johnstone

Of the 12 units into which we divide our year, August has always been the hardest for me to figure out, to categorize, to “get my arms around,” as they say. Unlike its 11 fellow months, August has no holidays (unless you’re a Canadian, in which event the first Monday is a “civic holiday”). Of course, in most of Europe, the whole of August is a holiday, which is what Europeans call their “weeks off” in this eighth month.

And I’m not the only one who has difficulty pigeonholing August. I’ve noticed that calendar makers often struggle figuring out what imagery to use for the month, which, let’s face it, is best known hereabouts for being three things, two of them seemingly contradictory: hot, and both muggy and dry. How do you depict such a month — with images of crispy grass, parchment-like leaves, and sweating multitudes? Or perhaps shots of air-conditioning compressors running full bore, or domestic animals and livestock ambling full bore for the nearest shade on oppressively hot, and even more oppressively humid, days?

So with these perceptions — or prejudices if you will, having lived in the South all my life — as backdrop, I was determined to think of, or look up from some respectable source, at least a few virtues that August brings with it. And so follows a “Top 10 List” of reasons to celebrate this misunderstood month.

August is a great month for church revivals, twilight picnics (on air-conditioned porches, if you ask me), shade-tree fishing, baseball games, and electric cooperative annual meetings. In fact, about a third of the electric cooperatives in the mid-Atlantic states of Virginia, Maryland and Delaware hold their annual meetings in August. Back in the 1930s and ’40s when cooperatives were founded, August was a great time for the primarily rural member-owners of cooperatives to get together and conduct the business affairs of their utility, after spring planting and before fall harvest.

There are lots of good, and good for you, fresh fruits and vegetables available in August. There are beans and squash and okra and corn and peaches. Then again, there are butter beans, and squash casserole, and fried okra, and corn on the cob with butter and salt, and peach cobbler. Take your pick. So, while the weather may be oppressive, the eating’s mighty good.

The month was named after the Roman Emperor Augustus (27 BC-14AD), whose reign marked the high point of Roman culture, with works by such literary luminaries-for-the-ages as Livy, Horace, Ovid and Vergil, whose works are still read today. In fact, in the 1700s, the English so admired this period that they coined the term “Augustan” to refer to anything that was admirable in art or politics.

It joins July (with the masculine Julius and the feminine Julia, Julie and Juliet) as the only two months that are also given names with both masculine and feminine forms. In the case of August, there’s the masculine August or Augustus, often shortened to Gus, and the feminine Augusta. That’s a pretty cool feature for two very hot months.

It is a word that has perhaps the most interesting alternative meaning among the names of the months: August, of course, is also an adjective that Mr. Webster has defined as “inspiring awe and reverence; imposing and magnificent; worthy of respect because of age and dignity, high position, etc.” So, does this make August an august month? Hmmmm.

With kids being out of school, it’s a great month to take a vacation (or holiday, if you like) with your family.

August is also the last month the kids are out of school. Phew. Sigh.

Congress takes a recess during August, meaning our congressional representatives are not in Washington debating the great issues of the day. I’ll let you decide whether that’s good or bad. (I’ll bet we all know what a public opinion survey would show on a question about that.)

As the dog days drag on, the heat and humidity of August make us appreciate the fall and spring months all the more. For, without discomfort, how can you know comfort?

OK, I’ll be honest. I ran out of steam on August’s virtues a few numbers ago. So the best I can do for a “number 10” reason to “celebrate” August is to refer to a tongue-in-cheek opinion piece by David Plotz, posted in late July 2001 at the Web site of the online magazine Slate (http://slate.msn.com). In this piece, entitled “August, Let’s Get Rid of It,” Mr. Plotz says the month is “beastly hot and muggy. It has a dismal history. Nothing good ever happens in it. And the United States would be better off without it.”

His solution? “Cede the first 10 days of August back to July, thus extending holiday revelry for more than a week. September would claim the last 10 days of August, mollifying the folks who can’t wait to get back to serious work. Labor Day would come 10 days earlier, the school year would run longer, and the rush of fall activity could get jump-started. August itself will keep 10 days. That is just enough: Every summer we’ll be able to toot happily, ‘Gosh, August went by so quickly this year!’ And as for the 31st day, it will be designated a holiday independent from any month. It will fall after the 10th and last day of August, and it will celebrate the end of that most useless month.”

Maybe the heat is getting to me, but Mr. Plotz’s solution seems extreme to me. Instead, how about if we take 21 days from February and give them to March? You know, to get an early start on spring fever. Then, we could give February’s other seven days (eight, of course, in leap years) to May. That would wipe out one of the least popular months, and beef up two of the nicer ones. Then, maybe we could get an early Thanksgiving by shifting most of November into December, thus also giving us more celebratory time for year-end religious holidays.

Or, hey, how about if we totally revamped the calendar, and organized it into major months and minor months ... or, even better, what if we made every week a month, giving us 52 months, so then each of our 50 states could name a month, and then sell naming rights to the other two to corporate sponsors, thus cutting the federal debt ... or, here’s a thought, maybe if we called the hot months “autumn” and the cold months “spring” then the weather would at least feel more pleasant. Wait, no, what if instead of that we …


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