On caregivers, faith, family, and writing…

Published in the Rains County Leader on July 14, 2022:

One of the main topics of conversation in northeast Texas for the last couple of weeks is the heat. “Weather” is probably one of the most commonly accessed apps as people follow the temperature, humidity, and “feels like” stats. Of course, all you need to do is step out the door into the oven-like heat to know that it’s HOT!

Some of the younger generations blame the current heat wave on global warming or climate change, but those of us who have lived for several decades spanning two centuries know that the climate has been changing cyclically since the events in the first chapter of Genesis. Two such incidents are particularly vivid in my memory, so I looked them up in Wikipedia.

The first one began two years after I was born and continued until I was ten years old. Wikipedia describes it like this:

The 1950s Texas drought was a period between 1949 and 1957 in which the state received 30 to 50% less rain than normal, while temperatures rose above average. During this time, Texans experienced the second-, third-, and eighth-driest single years ever in the state – 1956, 1954, and 1951, respectively.

Until the rains began again in 1958, I thought it was normal to have 2”-3” cracks in the yard that didn’t seem to have a bottom. I used to try to fill those cracks with water from the garden hose, and Daddy probably wondered why the water bill was so high. I also thought it was normal for the water in White Rock Lake to start about twenty-five feet from the rock retaining wall that surrounds it.

The second event that stands out in my mind is the 1980 Texas heat wave. This is how it is described online:

In Dallas/Fort Worth, Texas, high temperatures exceeded 100 °F (38 °C) a total of 69 times, including a record 42 consecutive days from June 23 to August 3, of which 28 days were above 105, and five days above 110.

This is a really clear recollection because of my work environment at the time. I worked in the business office of a private school as the accounts receivable clerk. It was my job to receive incoming tuitions, enter the checks into the bookkeeping system – this was before computers, so it was all done manually – and prepare the daily bank deposit. It was my busiest time of the year, because tuitions for the coming school year were due in full by the end of July, and several million dollars crossed my desk during that thirty-day period.

All was going well until the air-conditioning in our building went out. But those checks had to be processed to cover the orders of books and supplies that had already been placed by teachers, administrators, and other school personnel. The business office staff came in very early and more or less based quitting time on my schedule. Once the deposit was ready to go, we called it a day. By then, the air in the office was becoming stuffy, and not simply because of the heat. The Business Manager was originally from France, and he didn’t believe in using deodorant. To borrow a phrase from William Faulkner, it was a long hot summer.

Along with the temperature and heat index, another popular topic of conversation these days is “how did we survive without air-conditioning.” The simple answer is, we didn’t have a choice. We lived in west Texas until I was seven, and I don’t remember any heroic measures to keep cool. I don’t think we paid attention to minor details like heat or cold at that age as long as we could play outside with our friends. I began to notice it more, though, when we moved to Mesquite. Maybe it was the higher humidity of an area that had more of an actual landscape than tumbleweeds and oil derricks.

We had what we called a water cooler in the window of Mama and Daddy’s bedroom. For the uninitiated, these are also called swamp coolers or evaporative coolers. The best I can remember, the back and sides of our unit were lined with some kind of absorbent material. The bottom was a metal pan that held water that was wicked up into the pads on the sides. A fan drew outside air through the damp pads and blew the water-cooled air into the room. We had to fill the water pan from the garden hose, and to speed up the cooling, we sprayed water directly on the pads. It was a long way from refrigerated air, but it was better than nothing.

In the heat of the day, I would spread a quilt on the floor in front of the fan and read. At night, my brother and I had small oscillating fans in our rooms. I’m not sure where Jim placed his, but mine was in the only window in an attempt to draw some cooler night air into the house. Sometimes I pushed all the covers onto the floor and lay with my head at the foot of the bed because that put me closer to the air flow.

Ice also played a big part in keeping cool. We drank a lot of iced tea and Kool-Aid, and we ate a lot of popsicles and ice cream. There was almost always at least one freezer of homemade ice cream at any social gathering. The kids competed for the job of holding the churn in place by sitting on the bucket. Even though it was padded with several folded towels, the cold seeped through, and a cold bottom does a lot to lower the core temperature.

Daddy had another creative use of ice. We didn’t travel a lot, but we went to annual family reunions and took occasional trips to Houston or Arkansas. Since our only car air-conditioner was of the 4/60 variety – four windows down and sixty miles an hour – we always set out while it was still dark in hopes of reaching our destination before it got too hot. But even at 5:00 am, it wasn’t usually very cool in Texas, so he would put a metal dishpan on the floor of the front seat and stop at a local convenience store for a bag of crushed ice. He would position it in the dish pan so that the air from the outside vents would blow across the ice and chill the air inside the car. Another advantage was that we could suck on ice chips all the way to our destination.

Now, we can’t imagine living without the benefit of conditioned air, whether it’s cold or hot. But as we in this area learned during the Snowpocalypse of 2021, there are limits to how much demand the electrical grid can handle. As we add more and more electrical appliances and alternate-energy vehicles, we may eventually stretch the power plants beyond their capacity. And then we’ll find out what HOT really means.



Kitty’s Story

Fallen Angel Salvage

Tatia’s Tattoo

Mom’s Long Goodbye

A Long and Winding Road

Comments on: "It’s HOT!!! by Linda Brendle" (2)

  1. Gloria Moore said:

    There was an odor about our swamp cooler and occasionally those pads had to be replaced. One place we lived there was no inside cover and my younger sister almost stuck her hand into the blades. Did you know the blades where shaped much like a water wheel? They moved a lot of air!

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