Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Ain’t No Cure for the Summertime Blues

Nepenthe (inspired by Greek mythology) – Empty antique medicine bottle with original cork; raffia cords

Poor August…

…considered possibly the worst stretch of thirty-one consecutive days of the year.

Newspaper articles have been written actually touting the banishment of the month entirely.


Well, let’s pick up our scalpels, class, and begin dissection.

Firstly, August foretells the waning of summer. The days are getting shorter, the once vivid foliage starts to exhibit that sickly gray-green pallor. The fruit trees are peached, plumed, and nectarined out, the last strawberry’s been picked, and the flowers’ drooping heads are losing petals. The cicadas, which sang so brightly in the leaves overhead only a few weeks prior, are now dropping dead at your feet. Mosquitoes are rife; the lightning bugs have been switched off. And every child knows that each hour brings them inexorably closer to hearing, reading, and living those three most horrible words in the English language—Back to School.

Vacations are over. It’s time to shake the sand from those beach towels and bathing suits and commence the clean-out of all that lightweight summertime wardrobe and fill the closet with jackets, and caps, and corduroys. The garden needs a good overhaul, too, setting it up for the dormant months approaching. Firewood needs cutting; the hammock’s coming down; and the pool needs to be winterized. No more baseball, fireworks, or carnivals. No more picnics or lemonade.

Yup, August is the one true month for the summertime blues.

And there isn’t even a single official or religious holiday to celebrate—nope, not a one, which has left poor August a victim dedicated to the observance of…

National Immunization Awareness Month
National Psoriasis Awareness Month
National Water Quality Month
Cataract Awareness Month
Neurosurgery Outreach Month
Spinal Muscular Atrophy Awareness Month

and let’s not forget a personal favorite—Panini Month.

And just when you think it couldn’t get any weirder, the first seven days of August have been designated as World Breastfeeding Week.

August ain’t that hot in the history books either, think about—

Wild Bill Hickok was shot and killed at a poker table in Deadwood, South Dakota, in August 1876.

The first electric chair execution took place in August 1890, at Auburn Prison, Auburn, NY—the condemned having been found guilty of the hatchet murder of his wife. This also paved the way for the controversial August 1927 electrocution of Sacco and Vanzetti, two Italian immigrants convicted of a shoe factory payroll robbery during which the paymaster and a guard were killed.

Lizzie Borden made mincemeat of her parents with an axe (allegedly) in August 1892 and was later acquitted.

Judge Crater disappeared in August 1930, sparking one of America’s biggest manhunts; he was never found. (Jimmy Hoffa’s disappearance missed August by only two days, he vanished on July 30, 1975; he’s never been found either.)

Anne Frank made her last diary entry in August 1944.

The Watts Riots began in Los Angeles in August 1965, causing 34 deaths, 1,032 injuries, 3,438 arrests, and over $40 million in property damage.

In August 1966, Charles Whitman went down in infamy, after climbing to the observation deck of the University of Texas’ clock tower and shooting 48 people, 16 of whom died.

The infamous Manson Family murdered pregnant actress Sharon Tate, as well as Leno and Rosemary LaBianca, and four others in Los Angeles in August 1969.

Marilyn Monroe died in August, so did Elvis, and President Warren G. Harding, and Florence Nightingale, and Babe Ruth, and Groucho Marx, and Brigham Young, and Charles Lindbergh, and Rudolph Valentino.

King Richard III was killed on August 22, 1485, deservedly so.
Princess Diana was killed on August 31, 1997, undeservedly so.

Cleopatra committed suicide by asp in August 30 B.C.

Napoleon was sent into exile in August 1815.

President Nixon resigned office in August 1974.

And, in no order of preference, historically or chronologically—

World War I began.
The Persian Gulf War began.
The Battle of Britain occurred.
The US entered Vietnam.
Both atomic bombs at Hiroshima and Nagasaki were dropped.
The first bombs of the London Blitz fell.
John F. Kennedy’s PT-109 boat sank.
America’s very first income tax was levied.
The Berlin Wall went up.
Adolph Hitler became Fuhrer of Germany.
France’s St. Bartholomew’s Day Massacre took place.
Hurricane Camille hit.
Hurricane Katrina hit.
Hurricane Isaac hit.
Mount Vesuvius erupted.
The Krakatoan volcano erupted.

And August 28, 476, was the last day of the Roman Empire.

Wow…rough month, huh?

So, to celebrate August this year I offer you—nothing.

Well, not quite nothing.

I offer you—nepenthe.

Nepenthe\ noun \ 1 : a potion used by the ancients to induce forgetfulness of pain or sadness  2 :  something capable of causing oblivion of grief or suffering

Figuratively, it means “that which chases away sorrow.”

In Greek mythology, it was said that every draught of nepenthe came from the Lethe, a river in the Underworld whose waters bestowed total amnesia of your former life.

Spencer mentions nepenthe in The Faerie Queen; Erasmus in his In Praise of Folly.

Edgar Allan Poe sites it in The Raven.

Homer, Shakespeare, and H.P. Lovecraft reference it, too.

And it’s the subject of both American writer, Henry van Dyke’s eponymous poem and Irish poet, George Darley’s Nepenthe: A Poem in Two Cantos. 

In 1653 famed botanist, physician, and astrologer, Nicholas Culpeper, offered a recipe for nepenthe in The Complete Herbal:

Take of tincture of Opium made first with distilled Vinegar, then with spirit of Wine, Saffron extracted in spirit of Wine, of each an ounce, salt of Pearl and Coral, of each half an ounce, tincture of species Diambræ seven drams, Ambergris one dram.

Brewed up my own batch—got a glassful right here.

First sip…

…hmmm…okay, a little bitter, maybe…an acquired taste, no doubt.

Second sip…



…hey, this stuff ain’t half bad.

Now, what was I talking about again…?

(written with profuse apologies to anyone—good, bad, or indifferent—who possesses an August birthday)