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     Dog Days of Summer: The hottest days of summer. A literal translation from the Latin caniculares dies. The ancient Romans ascribed the apex of summer heat to the ascendancy of the dog star, or Sirius, the brightest star in the heavens. It is in the constellation Canis Major, meaning “big dog.” – Facts on File, Dictionary of Cliches

When I climbed into the box of the green pickup marked C.W. Matthews Construction, six large, unsmiling black men eyed me closely.

Not having worked with any blacks before, I wondered what I had gotten myself into.

A need for a summer job in 1968 while in college, plus the opportunity to stay with an aunt and uncle near Atlanta, Ga., spurred me on to what promised to be a great adventure.

Little did I know it would be the hottest work of my life, even worse than stacking bales or mowing hay on a tractor without an umbrella. I didn’t think anything could be as beastly as the blistering heat of an August day in South Dakota when the “dog days” are in full force.

The job site foreman looked me over skeptically that first morning, likely wondering if I was up to the task at hand. Then he offered this advice: “Try to take in plenty of water; you’ll need it.”

Frankly, there’s nothing romantic or historically uplifting about shoveling hot asphalt on a road construction crew in the Old South. The black, smelly, oil based mix of petroleum and aggregate flowed from the beds of the dump trucks like lava from a volcano. The mix was so hot – one worker told me it was 200 degrees — that I wore out three pairs of heavy work boots while shoveling it to the men using large metal rakes to shape and smooth the surface.

And yet, despite the heat and Georgia humidity, it was one of the best experiences of my life. The men who looked on me that first morning as a curiosity or at least as an unknown were no different than I. They were trying to earn some money to take care of their families, and I was putting something back for college tuition. I got to know three or four of them well, and occasionally went to Sunday dinner at their homes. One of them even showed me how he made moonshine.

The dog days of summer in our state often mean something besides hot weather. Rain can be in short supply, as it is this year, and the days of relentless heat bring parched crops and anxiety among farmers.

Little wonder, then, that the “dog days” aren’t a popular period of one of our state’s favorite seasons.

Aug. 10, 2016