By Rick Houser –
When your air conditioner goes on the blink these days and the temperatures of summer have arrived, we always think to ourselves, just how did we survive times like this back before we had air conditioning? We look to the generation of today and more than likely tell them we just were tougher in those days and go on. I’m pretty sure that is far from the truth.
There are several factors that went into how the heat was “beat”. Number one was that more than likely we spent most of our time out in the sun working in fields or gardens. For men who worked in factories where the temperatures would eclipse 100 degrees on a daily basis, stepping outside of the factory and maybe under a shade tree must have felt awesome.
The second thing was that almost all homes were shaded by large trees that would keep the sun from soaking its’way through the walls into a home. Our house also was a brick home that had three layers of brick and a corrugated tin roof. During the day the house maintained a somewhat cool feel to it but at about 1 to 2 a.m. the heat finally broke through and would make sleeping almost unbearable.
We even had a screened-in front porch and I have carried a blanket and pillow out there and slept on the glider. It wasn’t the most comfortable place to sleep, but it was cool. Mom always kept a lot of water in jars in the refrigerator along with a large supply of iced tea so we could stay hydrated and stay cool.
One major aid in overcoming the heat was since we never had air conditioning, we never missed it. As a matter of fact a home might have a fan or two but those were more for show as they really didn’t do much to cool down a home.
Along with the home not having air conditioning, neither did our car or truck. We had what was referred to as “four sixty air” in our vehicles. That was the car going sixty miles per hour and all four windows down. It sounds funny but the truth was that passengers weren’t much cooler. After spending half a year at least doing our best to seal up the house to keep the hot air in, we spent the summer doing our best at looking to find ways to open up the house to allow more air to pass through it.
It seems to me there were more outside events being held in those days. We spent less time in the house. other than sleeping and eating. I know we grilled out a lot just so we could eat in the shade of our big pine trees. I will admit that if we entered into a rainy spell and the temperatures stayed high, we were put to our toughest test and for the most part everybody suffered, but like I said we spent more time in the heat and under the sun.
A farmer’s tan was something acquired early in the spring which only got darker as the summer faded into fall. That tan to some degree protected a person from the heat. Also, in those days people just plain out sweated more often and it wasn’t even given a thought that sweat was undesired.
These days we like our air conditioning, not just in our homes but in all our vehicles and our places of work, and of course where we shop. We stay in climate-controlled environments almost 24 hours a day. As for sweating, that has almost been labeled uncivilized unless you are participating in a sporting event. As a society we have grown soft. Not having a comfortable place to sleep is just plain wrong! Here is where I want to be the first person to admit I am spoiled and demand where I am at to be climate controlled.
Growing up I would never have uttered those words where my parents or neighbors could hear me. To be labeled a wimp was a tag I absolutely didn’t want to earn. So as the thermometer went up, I just held my place and kept any complaints to myself. Growing up I would camp out with my cousin Walt or the Marshall brothers and we thought that was cooler but it probably wasn’t. However, it was a fun way to pass a hot summer’s night.
As a matter of fact it wasn’t just the younger boys in the neighborhood that slept outside. I had a great uncle named Roy and he was “unique” to say the least. I am not sure just where he got it but he found an army cot. On hot nights he would set it up in his yard by the door and sleep on it under the stars. I never saw him on the cot but have seen the cot sitting there in the yard. Uncle Roy was a man near 6’3” and lanky and in his 80’s. I have always had this picture in my mind of him on that old cot with his feet hanging over the end. He said he always got a good night’s sleep so who was I to argue with him? Besides, it did make for a good tale to tell.
So as my wife and I sit here in that good old hot air and wait for the air conditioner part to arrive, it is safe to say we are far from wishing for a return to those days when we hadn’t even heard of air conditioning. I could write this story about hot humid days in the comfort of climate control just as well as sweating this one out as I type, but it is safe to say that not all of the days of the past were good old days. At least not this topic.
Rick Houser grew up on a farm near Moscow in Clermont County and loves to share stories about his youth and other topics. He may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.