We’ve had this same conversation several times since summer finally came to Texas – especially when our air conditioning unit stopped working the Thursday before the Fourth of July. For several days David worked with a repairman and two helpful neighbors, but due to a series of replacement parts that were unavailable or didn’t work, our central unit sat idle until Monday. Thankfully, we had installed a window unit in the bedroom a few weeks before, so we survived the weekend by closing ourselves in and watching lots of old movies – and we talked about how we kept cool before Freon became available to the masses.
One of the favorite ways to beat the heat when I was a kid was water. Keep in mind that I am one generation removed from West Texas tenant farmers, so no one I knew owned a swimming pool. When Mom and Dad were young and swimsuit fit, we sometimes went on family outings to the public swimming pool, and when I was a little older, I occasionally went to the pool with my friends. More often, though, we stayed home, and the kids played with the hose. While supposedly watering the flowers, we turned the spray nozzle on each other, and when Dad watered the lawn, we had a great time running through the sprinklers. We didn’t have a real wading pool, so we filled an old Number 2 Washtub and took turns jumping off the porch and making a splash.
Another way of escaping the heat is to follow the example of the wealthy who spend their summers in the mountains or at the seashore. We didn’t travel in style, but we did get away from time to time. We visited relatives on the Gulf and played in the waves. It wasn’t much cooler there than home, but it was fun. Sometimes we spent a week in the Ozarks where we experienced some real relief. Since our car wasn’t air conditioned, the trip itself wasn’t much fun, but we always left early enough to make it to our destination before the sun was too high in the sky. If the heat became too oppressive, Dad would stop and buy a bag of crushed ice. He set it in a dishpan on the floor in front of the vent to cool the air as it blew into the car. We also chewed on the ice to cool off our insides.
When we were at home and inside, we had fans – a small oscillating fan in each bedroom to move the hot air around a bit. As technology and finances advanced, we added an evaporative cooler in the master bedroom. During the hottest part of the day, I’d spread a quilt on the floor in front of the cooler and spend a couple of hours reading or napping. Later, we moved to a house that had an attic fan. It pulled air in through the windows so that, even though the night air wasn’t very cool, at least it was fresh. Eventually, Mom and Dad bought a window unit for their bedroom, and not long afterward, they added another one in the den. The house was small enough that the two units kept it relatively comfortable.
My first experience with central air conditioning was when I moved into an apartment when I was twenty, and I haven’t lived without it since. I have survived the Texas heat with nothing more than a water hose and a fan, and I could probably do it again. Hopefully, though, I won’t have to.
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