Cool and Easy Summertime

Gerry Niskern sent these fond memories and suggestions recently. They were previously published in the Arizona Republic.

“It’s Summertime and the Livin’ is Easy.” We’re all familiar with that old Gershwin song. The problem is, if you’re a new resident here in the Valley of the Sun, summertime doesn’t seem so easy, does it?   Don’t be discouraged. It takes time to learn how to adjust to the summer time routines that longtime residents here have found helpful.

Here’s some ideas to help cope with the heat. First, think cotton.  It’s one fabric that breathes, and that’s important when it is over a hundred degrees outside. Look for cotton on the label on men’s shirts. If it’s a blend, then the higher percentage of cotton, the better. And on the little kids and babies clothes, go for soft cotton knits.

Next comes water, good old H2o.   When you are walking, take a spray bottle with you. Spray often to keep your temperature down and it’s easy to spray a sip now and then. There is nothing like a fine mist of water to cool you down.  All ages can enjoy the great water parks here in the valley with their super slides and wave pools.  Kids with swimming pools in their back yard are fortunate, but children with community pools close by are lucky too.

When we moved to Phoenix when I was ten, University Park swimming pool was about ten blocks away. I’ll never forget the feeling of arriving hot and tired at the counter, getting our basket for clothes and finally jumping feet first into that deliciously cold water.

My resident historian remembers swinging from a rope tied to a Cottonwood tree and dropping into the frigid water of an irrigation ditch that ran along Lateral 14.  The barefooted climb up the rough bark in anticipation of another cool was worth it every time.

Of course, taking the family floating down the Salt or Verde in an inner tube is a great way to spend a hot day on the weekend. Our family used to set off along the muddy banks of the river and let the kids have the heady freedom of going on ahead of the grown-ups. We cruised the low, clear river and the water was like melted snow against our hot skin.

Drinking lots of water is best; but what’s your favorite soft drink? Does anyone remember the taste of a tall Barqs Orange as the first gulps hit your parched throat? Even better was a Grapette. The bottles were smaller, but what a tart delight. We can’t forget the A&W Root Beer stands that served root beer in those frozen mugs. They even had tiny mugs for the toddlers.

Then we come to keeping cool with ice cream. There is nothing compared to wrapping your tongue around a creamy, frigid cone unless it’s your first spoonful of homemade ice cream right off the paddle! Of course, some would argue that nothing compares to sucking on those first chips of ice flying off your dad’s pick as he chipped away at the chunk he purchased at Crystal Ice.

When you start feeling sorry for yourself living and working this valley in the summertime, think about your air conditioning at home, and in stores and cars.

When you see those thunderheads forming soon, you are in for a real treat of the smell of the desert after a rain. After the first sniff of the pungent scents of wet creosote and sage all your discomfort of summer will vanish. I promise.

Gerry Niskern is the author of Don’t Throw the Bread, a memoir, available in the ScottsdaleTrails Amazon Store. She grew up in Phoenix and is a monthly contributor to the Arizona Republic. You can see Niskern’s watercolors at She can be reached at

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