My car rolls to a stop in my driveway. I watch the gray, lifeless dust whirl around my tires. Turning off the ignition, I listen to the air conditioner wheeze a death rattle. As I reach for the door handle, I feel it. It’s right outside. Waiting.
My body grows heavy and wet on my way to the front doorknob of my house. Cats lie beneath the front steps, stretched out like melted taffy. I curl my fingers around my blinding reflection in the knob and fling myself to the cool safety of my air-conditioned living room. Ahhh.
When did I get so spoiled? I spend most summer days skulking from coolness to coolness like an army saboteur, listening for compressor sounds and infiltrating any building whose windows are barricaded against the outside air.
Of my 60-plus summers, the first 20 or so were endured without benefit of air
conditioning. None in the car. None in the house. None. It’s like a story Grandpa tells you to make you feel guilty.
But I’ll bet many of you remember those days, too.
Car windows were always rolled all the way down. We’d sit in the back, fighting over window seats, and pray for acceleration to increase the whiffs of cool air coming in.
There was no escaping the heat back then. Cardboard fans – giant Popsicle sticks with advertisements for the local funeral home stapled to them – kept time to every hymn at church on Sunday.
They fluttered lazily within firm, tomato-picking, bean-snapping hands, passing puffs of air from pew to pew like prayerful sighs.
At night, we oozed inside and planted ourselves near window screens whose holes were evidently too small to emit a breeze but plenty big for bugs: scuttling, crawling, biting, stinging, buzzing bugs.
They flung wings and antennae against the screens and found ways to squeeze through cracks and tears we were sure we had repaired.
Mosquitoes feasted on our slick skin. Flies landed just long enough to tickle, and disappeared before we found the flyswatter.
Zigzag leaps of shiny-black crickets kept our eyes darting. This horror movie played in every room of the house; we watched with slitted, sweaty eyes.
Fans were meted out at bedtime. They were heavy, oily machines with thick black cords that were never long enough.
The blades clattered and whined and circulated stale air with haphazard rhythm.
We lay on top of the covers, wearing as little as was decent, and splayed our bodies out so none of our skin would touch itself.
I remember cool washrags against my throat and chest. Flipping the cloth over and over, again and again, until it dried out. Flopping from side to back to stomach, like meat on a spit, looking for a position that would let me sleep.
The clocks ticked slow and lazy, on those hot nights of my childhood, as if too tired to keep time. We waited for dawn and another chance to look for a shady spot or an errant breeze.
I don’t know about you, but I think those “Good Old Days” of summer were pretty darn miserable.
Now, I sit here in my office – older and cooler– typing in harmony with the hum of the central air conditioning. And every time it kicks on, I thank God for the cool and for the ability to pay the electric bills it generates.
We should never forget the way it used to be – back when we lived through summer after summer, sweating like crazy and dealing with the discomfort.
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Contact Robin at email@example.com