BND Magazine

July 20, 2014

Who needs air conditioning?

Our air conditioner finally gave up the ghost a couple of weeks ago.

After 32 years of metro-east scorchers, it coughed, sputtered and filled the house with warm air on those 90-plus days.

This time, none of our heroics worked. Squirting out the coils. Freon transfusions. Filter resuscitation. Not even a good swift kick worked.

We pulled the plug. Thirty-two years -- I guess I got my money's worth.

Now, we're back in business with a brand shiny new unit. It hums rather than grinding and keeping the neighbors awake.

But a few days without air conditioning got me to thinking about all those years when air conditioning was as pie-in-the-sky as putting a man on the moon.

How did we ever survive?

Our house had those high ceilings and all the bedroom doors had tilt-out transoms on top.

"It's all about air flow," Pop said.

Pop knew all about air flow.

Pop hooked up a motor he extracted from a washed up washing machine and hooked it up to a big fan in an upstairs window. I was fond of telling my boys when they were little that when Pop cranked up the fan the Air Force called and asked to use our hallway as a wind tunnel to test new jets.

Why, the breese was so strong, I could slide up the bannister. They believed me.

Mom and Pop didn't have much use for air conditioning. When they got older, my brothers got them an air conditioner and installed it in the kitchen window.

Pop used it to hold his cap, toothpicks and any spare change he had in his overalls pockets at the end of the day. A flower pot sat serenely on the part that stuck outside.

But it rarely saw any action as an air conditioner. Only when there was a family gathering on a very hot day and and my brothers turned it on when pop wasn't looking. He usually sat outside anyway.

St. Paul School never had air conditioning either.

"Think cool thoughts," I remember my sixth-grade teacher, Mr. Harrigan, saying on hot days. In the middle of the afternoon egg-frying-on-the-sidewalk kind of day, he had us close our eyes and think about polar bears on icebergs. I think it was starting to work until I opened my left eye and realized Mr. Harrigan and I were the only ones with our eyes closed. Once when he did this, some of us switched seats on him. That was cool.

Until he had the cuprits stay in our seats during the next recess and imagine we were having fun outside.

I think Harrigan was on the right track, so here are a few cool thoughts I've thunk lately.

Sometimes in winter, we kids would scoop up some snow, carefully pat it into balls (softball size) and put them in plastic bags in the freezer.

If we were lucky, they wouldn't get crushed by a pork roast or thrown out on one of Mom's famous defrosting days.

Then, in July, long after we had forgotten about our treasure, Mom suggested we finally get those snowballs out of her way.

When we opened the bags, we found our snow softballs had turned into snow marbles. It didn't matter. We played catch with them, put them down each other's backs and toss them. And for a few moments, it was snowing in July.

A friend of mine told me about a trick her brother's baseball team used. One extremely hot day, the coach showed up at the field with a head of cabbage.

The teenage players wondered what was up.

Coach said the cabbage was to keep them cool. Yeah, right. Coach took off his cap and, sure enough, it was lined with a cabbage leaf.

So the all the players put cabbage leaves under their caps and went off to play ball.

She doesn't remember if they won the game. But they were a lot cooler than the other team.

When the mercury climbs to nearly 100, there's only one logical thing to do. Take off your shoes and socks and run, don't walk, through the nearest lawn sprinkler.

The only trouble is, my boss frowns on that.

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