The steering wheel brands my palm with the searing heat of the summer sun. I breathe in oven-hot air and emit steaming curses while I wait for the car's air conditioner to start blowing cool. It's so hot and I want relief. NOW. After what seems like hours, the vents start to release cold, artificial air.
I inhale a lungful, ignoring the metallic taste, and start home. Soon I am encased in an igloo of chilly comfort. I roll to a stop in my driveway and watch the colorless dust whirl around my tires. Turn off the key. Listen to the air conditioner wheeze a death rattle. Before I can pull the keys from the ignition and reach for the door, I feel it. It's right outside. Waiting. I wade through the sweltering air that crushes my body, heavy and wet. I curl my fingers around my blinding reflection on the front doorknob and fling myself inside my air-conditioned living room. Ahhh. When did I get so spoiled? How did I become this delicate, air-conditioning-dependent woman who gripes if the thermostat reads above 80 degrees? Of my many summers, the first 20 or so were endured without benefit of air conditioners. None in the car. None in the house. None. It's like a story Grandpa tells to make you feel guilty. But most of you remember those summers, too. There was no escape from the heat. Cardboard fans, stapled to giant Popsicle sticks, filled worshippers' hands at church and passed puffs of air from pew to pew like prayerful sighs. Car windows were rolled all the way down. In the back seat we prayed for acceleration, waiting to feel a whiff of cool. At night, we oozed indoors and planted ourselves near window screens whose holes were evidently too small to admit cool air, but plenty big for bugs -- flying, crawling, biting, stinging, scuttling, buzzing bugs. They flung wings and antennae against the screens and found ways to squeeze through cracks and tears we were sure we'd repaired.
More: Letter to the Editor
Mosquitoes feasted on our slick skin. Flies landed just long enough to tickle, disappearing by the time we found the flyswatter. Zigzag leaps of shiny black crickets kept our eyes darting. The horror movie played with tired repetition in every room of the house. Fans were meted out at bedtime—heavy machines with thick black cords that were never long enough. The blades clattered and whined and circulated stale air. We lay on top of the covers, wearing as little as possible and lying all splayed out so our skin wouldn't meet. I remember cool washrags against my throat and chest. Flipping the cloth over, again and again, until it dried out. Flopping from side to back to stomach like meat on a spit, looking for a position that would let me sleep. The clock ticked slow and lazy, as if too tired to keep time. We waited for dawn and another chance to look for a shady spot or an errant breeze. I sit here in my office—older and cooler—typing in harmony with the hum of my central air conditioner. The compressor kicks on and off efficiently, and the breeze from the vent swirls about. I can see the glaring afternoon sunshine through my closed, shaded windows, but I don't feel it. I don't have to. We've all gotten much too soft. Too dependent on air conditioning. We should be ashamed . . . and remember the days when we lived just fine without it, thank you. And when that sky-high electric bill comes, demanding cold, hard cash for the coolness we've grown so fond of, we simply pay it. There is no going back.
Contact Robin at email@example.com
This article originally appeared on Canton Daily Ledger: Remembering the days before air conditioning