Friday, June 28, 2013

Well, It's Hot

Depending where you live, you may or may not have noticed that the weather is hot. It's Summer now, after all, so we should have realized that hot was on the way.

Our local Midwestern newspaper runs a column everyday featuring news from 50 and 100 years ago. Lately there have been several items about the oppressive heat of 1913. Now, that must have been uncomfortable.

Women wearing heavy layers of skirts that just touched the ground. Men wearing shirts with detachable celluloid collars and suits nearly everyday. One recent news article about 1913 proclaimed that the local ministers were going to take exception to the heat and allow men to attend church in their shirt sleeves, jackets optional.

Imagine what it would have been like then to be in a public building without air conditioning. No doubt very brutal.

I saw an interview on Turner Classic Movies with actor/author/producer/director Bob Balaban about the early days of cinema. His family owned several movie theatres early in the last century and those theatres were not opened during the summer. It seems that having the doors closed to make the theatres dark was so uncomfortable that patrons couldn't stand the conditions. The Balabans figured out how to "air cool" the theatres. It was an unprecedented luxury and drew huge audiences in to enjoy the air and watch movies.

Apparently the portable electric fan debuted about 1890, so no doubt it took some time before they reached wide use. So folks were left to their own devices to keep cool. Remember those hand-held paper fans with stick handles? You see them in antique stores now.

I recall many hot days during the 1950s without air conditioning in Illinois. We had a large box fan which rolled from room to room. It could be maneuvered toward an open window or screen door to provide some comfort. We got warm but found ways to stay as cool as possible: splashing in our neighbors' wading pool, playing with the hose, staying in our basement or going to the local swimming pool. Much of the time we did little until evening arrived or a cool spell would allow us to be active.

In the summer of 1960, we drove our 1958 Ford from Illinois to Arizona, then back to Illinois and finally back to Arizona (again). It took two round trips to convince our family that it was time to relocate. Our Ford was not air conditioned, of course. In those days, few cars were air conditioned and those were mainly luxury vehicles. The trips were hot. Really hot. But we did the tourist things, seeing the state before heading back. We would stay at motels with swimming pools. The best part was that I got one beautiful, deep tan with little effort. I was 13 and those were the type of things that mattered.

When I was first working in Phoenix, it was some time before I had a car with air conditioning. What a glorious development. Yes, I got hot and would feel baked but  I merely dealt with it.

My ex-mother-in-law and her family arrived in Arizona from the Oklahoma panhandle in the early 1920s. They settled in a small home in the desert west of Phoenix where they had no way to cool off or to keep food cold. Her father came up with a design to help. They had to haul ice to keep anything chilled and he devised a way to blow air across the ice at night so they could sleep. Talk about roughing it. But they were grateful for any comfort from the heat.

When I started college in the Fall of 1965, some of the college dorms still had "sleeping porches" for student housing. Older dorms had long screened-in extensions, usually on the second floor which held rows of beds. These were designed in the late 19th century as a way to make the most of the "cooler" breezes which swept across the desert at night. Students of one sex all slept together in these beds so that they could get relief from the heat. These same students also had dorm rooms similar to most dorms with bathroom facilities, desks and closets. Once the students were out of bed, they would go about the business of studying, getting ready for the day, etc. Even in 1965, these accommodations were considered antiquated and were soon to be replaced. But this, too, was a way to deal with the heat.

Hearing such stories does little to cool us off in the midst of this current heat wave. But we need to remember that not so very long ago, people had it much worse. We should be a bit humbled by what they went experienced.

So raise a chilled glass of ice tea and stay hydrated. This too shall pass.

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