The heat makes me grouchy. Don’t get me wrong; I love summer, sitting on the porch morning and night. Where I live, it rarely goes above 90, and almost never above 95. We have what I call “Yankee air conditioning,” which means we have window fans. In the mornings, when the night air has been blowing into our house for hours, I close all the windows if the forecast is for temps over 85, then draw the curtains and pull the shades. I love my dim, cool house in the summer. Most days, this is sufficient, and around 6:30 or so, we open the windows. We live in the woods, and there’s almost always a breeze.
My parents didn’t believe in air conditioning when I was a kid. Nor window fans. We just suffered. I’d go into the cellar and read, emerging hours later, smelling slightly of mold, the only kid who got whiter in the summer. The library didn’t have AC either, nor our schools. When it was hot, a teacher might tell us to put our heads down on our desks. She’d turn out the lights and we’d just sit there, dozing. I loved that.
My Pop-Pop told me to run my wrists under cold water when I was hot. That way, he said, my blood would cool off. It probably didn’t, but it felt good. My sister and I would dampen paper towels and put them in the freezer, then lie strewn on couches with the stiff, thin cloths on our foreheads, like wealthy Victorian women suffering heat stroke. We’d go into the woods and sit under trees, or sometimes climb them so we could be closer to the breeze. Later, when we got a pop-up camper, we’d sit there, though it was hotter, and play cards with our friend, Beth, three tweens sweating and dealing like old pros. “One-eyed jacks are wild. How many to you, Hilly?”
The barn always felt cool. My sister and I would sit on the edge of the feed barrel and push our feet into the cracked corn, which felt good. The horse would stroll around and sigh, flicking flies with her tail, and the goat would nuzzle my sister. Our barn kitty would appear from somewhere unexpected, yawning from a nap.
When it was unbearably hot in our adolescent minds, we’d call our friend, Mr. Curtis, and ask if we could come for a swim. He had a beautiful pool, and he always said yes, and it was bliss.
When I was 17, my dad “surprised” my mom by putting in a swimming pool while she was away. She was not happy to see a back hoe digging up her yard, but what was done was done. Mom didn’t swim in that pool for years out of protest, but we kids had no such qualms. Unfortunately, we were kind of old by then. Or so it felt. I tended to stick to being a cellar-dweller with a dish of ice cream and a book.
Summers are hotter these days. When McIrish and I built out little house in the woods, we didn’t see the need for central air conditioning. But you know how it is; we can stand the heat, but the damp sheets and furniture are yucky. Now, when a heat wave starts its inexorable plod from Chicago, we sigh and go to the basement and haul up a window unit and count the days till a few good thunderstorms will clear us out and bring back the lovely, clean air of a New England summer.