Column: Air conditioning is a modern comfort, but it can spoil you

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, September 25, 2002

I grew up in an era that was pretty much air conditioning-free. Oh, you could crawl into the old car, roll down all the windows and head down the road at about 40 miles per hour. That felt sort of like air conditioning &045; if you stretched your imagination to its outermost boundaries. If you stuck your head out the window, it felt even more like air conditioning.

The problem was that it was hard to get most houses to move up to 40 miles per hour. The old farmhouse I slept in was a local hot spot in the summertime. Hot air rises and it all found its way into my upstairs bedroom. Sleep was scheduled for every night &045; weather permitting. Those hot, humid nights made sleep nearly impossible. The screen windows were in place in order to invite in any breeze that may have found its way to our farm. Few did on those still and stuffy nights. The screens gave me something to listen to while I couldn’t sleep as they let in the night sounds of katydids, owls and raccoons. The only other thing that came in through the windows was more hot air.

I would spend most of the night turning my pillow over and over again, in an attempt to find the cool side. There are few pleasures greater than a cool pillow on a hot night. There were nights when I would spin that pillow like a top before realizing that there was no cool side to be found. Pillow failure, I called it.

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As sleep avoided me, I kept telling myself that it wasn’t the heat, it was the humidity, but it didn’t help a bit. When I did manage to fall asleep, I dreamed pleasant thoughts of a life of being a resident of an igloo. My mother, bless her heart, would put ice into a dishpan and then turn on an electric fan so that it would blow the cool air from the melting ice in my direction. It may sound silly today, but it really helped. If the heat and humidity became even more unbearable, my mother would wet the sheet on my bed. Of course, I was perfectly capable of wetting my own sheets. My mother would tell me that if I would think of a cold winter day, it would make me feel cool. Actually, this kind of worked.

On the rare days that we went to town, I loved spending time in the meat department of the grocery store. It was always cool there. After a short stay, I would have to leave the store. I began to feel guilty about not buying anything and the guy slicing the meat would begin to give me dirty looks.

Now, the air conditioner was invented more than 100 years ago, but it was kept a secret from my family and most everyone that we knew. Today, just about everyone has air conditioning. It changes things. People used to sit on front porches and front steps. This kept them cooler and allowed them to watch the world go by. These were places where folks relaxed and told their stories. They waved at passersby. They used to drink a lot more lemonade than we do today. I don’t know which was better, drinking the stuff or pressing the cool glass against a sweating forehead.

My wife and I have central air in our house and air conditioning in our vehicles. The air in our car works so well, that when the refrigerator broke, we put all the stuff from the fridge into the car. I turned the air conditioning on to the maximum and nothing was any worse for the wear.

Air conditioning spoils a person. I notice the heat much more than I did back in the days when my belt overlapped a bunch. One day, I found myself thinking that it would be nice if my push lawn mower was equipped with air conditioning. Without air conditioning our lives would be different. No one could blame his or her cracking voice on the air conditioning. Politicians and their fancy business suits would only show up for work on cool days. CEOs would keep their hands in their own pockets on hot, sticky days. The price of land with shade on it would skyrocket.

I like air conditioning. It makes life easier. Just don’t fool with the temperature controls too much. Resist the temptation to turn the cold air way up. I am speaking from experience. Do not do it, but if you do, please let me know an easy way to get my tongue off my cold living room wall.

Hartland resident Al Batt writes columns for the Wednesday and Sunday editions of the Tribune.