What our family did on summer vacation when the air conditioning broke down | Opinion

A few years ago, I wrote a summer piece about the value and need for a vacation.  I discussed that I was spending time on my wife’s family farm in middle Georgia, in a southern hamlet called Pinehurst.

It is there where generations of her family lived and died. In recent years, her industrious brother Robert, one of many industrious men in her family, single-handedly built the family vacation home – plank by plank and concrete block-by-concrete block.

It is a fine place. It was constructed with family gatherings in mind. There is large central room from which all activities pivot off – a large kitchen and three bedrooms oriented like spokes off the large room’s “wheel."

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Memories without air conditioning

The house is replete with all the latest 20th and 21st Century amenities – one key one in such a hot and humid locale as Pinehurst, is air conditioning.

Many of our children and grandchildren have no recollection of a world without air conditioning.

They have no memory of the salutary effects of a scheduled mid-day dip in a cool shimmering stream, the soothing effects of sitting on a block of ice in the summer heat, eating watermelon and other summer delicacies, or the frantic rush and sibling fights on who would sleep directly under the only fan in the house, anchored for a seeming eternity in Mom’s kitchen window.

No, they blissfully run from room to room with their iPads, iPhones and other “i-things” I know very little of.

Well, on this family weekend from August 12 to14, we were subjected to a weekend from an H.G. Well’s spawned device – “The Time Machine" (1895).  You see our air conditioner stopped working!

The fans turned but produced only ambient – warm, humid air.

Oh, boy!

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Bring out the fans and the stories

The elders in the family gathered and concluded that we were in for a hot, humid, and sweaty night, until our “deus ex machina," the air conditioning repairman’s arrival at 9 a.m. the next morning.

Dr. Andre Churchwell
Dr. Andre Churchwell

Every fan we could find was dusted off and brought into the house and placed in strategic locations – close to the patriarchs and matriarchs of the family.  This is when being of a certain age was useful, as I had one stationed close to me.

Then began the sharing of stories of “the pre-air-conditioner dinosaur age."  How hand fans were a necessary accoutrement to your Sunday church outfit.  How the city slickers present in those bygone days had no idea or experience with working, living, sleeping, and surviving in the thermal blasts of summer heat and humidity.

My credentials were also reviewed too. Had I always had air conditioning? Was I a typical temperature sensitive city-slicker? And a host of criticisms and deeply analytic temperature and climate questions were posed.

I explained, under continuous Perry Mason questioning, that having lived in Nashville, Tennessee, in the 1960s deep in the heart of Black East Nashville, my experiences in Robert and Mary Churchwell’s “air condition-less” home qualified me for the All-Star Heat Exposure Team.

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The technician was a godsend

That evening, as I took a cold shower and minimized my night time clothing to its “bare essentials," I lay in my bed with the ceiling fans churning and the small but dedicated floor fan turning from side to side, producing much needed air of high velocity and effect.

I pondered that time travel has some potential experiences that I would like to savor, but lying and sweating in an 80 plus degree room was not one of them.

As I composed this piece, a young man with spectacles and a large tool kit arrived from the heating and air conditioning company to resurrect our air conditioner.

With prayers from all, and deep affection for him in our hearts for his technical skills, the air conditioner is now working.

All fans were returned to either outdoor use or the storage room. I sat drenched in cool therapeutic air and hopeful that time travel to warmer days was shared with another family this weekend.

Then, I went back to my South Georgia cuisine, of course, properly seasoned with cholesterol lowering medication – a statin.

Andre L. Churchwell, M.D., is a professor of medicine (cardiology), radiology and biomedical engineering at Vanderbilt University. He is also vice-chancellor for equity, diversity and inclusion and chief diversity officer.

This article originally appeared on Nashville Tennessean: What our family did on vacation when the air conditioning broke down