Al Batt: Air conditioning was something we had in winter

Published 8:45 pm Tuesday, June 11, 2024

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Tales from Exit 22 by Al Batt

The AC guy was out to make sure our air was conditioned.

Al Batt

It reminded me that I should write something about air conditioning. I do so every couple of years to remind myself of how terrible I had it while growing up and how wonderful I had it while growing up.

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I didn’t grow up in the Dark Ages, but it was close.

I grew up in the Dim Ages. Things weren’t as bright as they are today. Now, it’s difficult to outdistance lights. Something is always shining, beaming, blinking or flashing.

We didn’t have all the towering wind turbines with blinking red lights in the Dim Ages. We got our wind from farm windmills.

The Dim Ages were nearly bereft of air conditioning. There was barely any hair conditioning. When we were hot, we lived with it. We liked it or lumped it.

We had minor solutions. We gathered in shady places. I jumped into a cow tank. A visiting relative who lived in town wouldn’t do that because the water contained cow spit.

I’d go to the frozen foods section of a local grocery store and peruse the packages of Birds Eye green peas and pearl onions, or succotash with luscious lima beans. I’ve never found shopping to be cooler than it was then. I’d gawk until guilt beckoned me to move along. It was challenging to be the lone person milling about.

That was back when driving a car was cool because vehicles were equipped with 4-40 air conditioning. You rolled down all four windows and drove 40 mph. Cars had floor vents that brought in a whoosh of air and varied smells. There were small triangular windows that opened in the corners just ahead of the side windows in the front seat. They provided helpful whistling. That whistle took one’s mind off the heat.

The house was a problem. None of the windows could be rolled down and it wasn’t easy to get the house up to 40 mph.

My bedroom was upstairs above the kitchen. The cookstove provided additional heat. Hot air rises and all that other scientific stuff.

There were humid days when it was possible to wring water out of the air after mopping it. Yet it wasn’t the heat or the humidity. It was the heat and the humidity.

Screen windows replaced storm windows on the old farmhouse in the spring. It was essential to leave enough cracks to allow entry for bloodthirsty mosquitoes. On hot, muggy, stuffy nights, sleep was hard to corral. I’d toss and turn. Then I’d turn and toss. I’d spin my pillow, searching for the cold side. When I couldn’t find a cold side, I’d hang a wet dishtowel on a window screen, hoping a gentle breeze would bring a breath of cooling air to my room.

If it became even more insufferable, my mother carried in a dishpan full of ice made in a metal tray in the refrigerator featuring three climate zones: Antarctica, warming and room temperature. She placed the dishpan on a chair near my bed and fired up a metal fan slightly larger than my room. The fan, kept in a cage, would frequently go berserk and attempt to escape. The fan blew the cold air rising from the melting ice in my direction. If I imagined I was in the company of Ernest Shackleton on the ship Endurance during his attempt to reach the South Pole, I felt cooled.

If it got worse, and it did, my mother wet the sheets on my bed, even though I was perfectly capable of wetting my own sheets.

Today’s cars are refrigerators on wheels, and nearly every house has air conditioning. We don’t sit outside as much as we used to in the summer, telling stories and watching the world go by while pressing a cool glass of lemonade or iced tea against our sweaty foreheads.

Life isn’t perfect. It’s not supposed to be. As unfair as it may sound, my push lawn mower isn’t equipped with air conditioning.

Overall, my wife and I have an air-conditioned life.

It has our AC guy’s seal of approval.

But I still spin my pillow, hunting for the cold side.

Al Batt’s columns appear in the Tribune every Wednesday.