Summer Before Air Conditioning
Air conditioning keeps me comfortable during the current heat wave, but I remember how we tried to cool off when nothing but the movie theater was air conditioned.
July and August approximated hell when I was a kid. No day was so hot that we wouldn’t work in the fields and the garden. Only the persistent breeze made the heat and humidity bearable.
The steamy days heated the house, making it equally miserable. When we got electricity, fans helped a little. During the day the coolest place to be was in the shade of a big elm. (Sadly Dutch elm disease killed these majesic trees some 50 years ago.)
After we’d milked and watered the cows in the evening, we’d sit on the front porch to catch the breeze, or to create it by swinging in the swing suspended from the porch ceiling with chains. When the sun set and the lightning bugs came out, my sisters and I would leave the porch to catch bugs to put in a fruit jar. We’d also compete to see the first star (the one you wished on) and then the Big Dipper.
Most nights we’d sleep inside, often after sprinkling the sheets with water the way we did the clothes before ironing them. On particularly hot nights, my sisters and I would spread an old blanket on the grass and try to sleep there. I don’t think we ever lasted the whole night. Chiggers, mosquitoes, and dew drove us inside.
Despite the discomfort, those nights sleeping in the yard thrilled me. The star-stuffed sky offered a magical, memorable panorama.