“It’s a funny thing.” That’s what Mama used to say when something baffled her. Like Mama, I prefer that things make sense. Otherwise, I’ll ponder, figure, study and try to decipher that funny thing until it’s somewhat sensible.
In this case, it’s my relationship with air conditioning that I’m unable to completely explain to others, though I seem to understand it myself.
I don’t like the icy feel of air conditioning in our home even in the smothering deep-summer humidity. It has to do with my raising, as do most things for most people.
As I often write, I come from people who managed to turn suffering into a shrug-of-the-shoulders and a normal, almost expected, way of life. My mountain grandparents lived without electricity until near the end of World War II when the EMC managed to weave power lines through the back roads and thicket of trees. Until then, they used kerosene lamps, fireplaces, hand-cranked battery radios and a “spring box” plunked down in the nearby river to keep dairy from spoiling.
Both of my grandfathers died without ever knowing the luxury of indoor plumbing, never visited a movie theater and, certainly, never dreamed that cold air could be manufactured. To them, the breeze from nearby rivers and towering trees provided relief through wide-open windows and squeaky screen doors.
My parents bravely escaped. They scrimped and saved until they could pay cash for a beautiful piece of land with water that ran through it, a lifelong requisite for any land Daddy purchased. “Never buy a piece of land that doesn’t have water on it,” he repeatedly said. That was his raising. Water was needed to be toted to the house, keep the spring boxes and provide cooled air.
With the help of friends, he built a small brick house, sturdy and plain. It always did and still does remind me of the little piggy who built the house that couldn’t be blown down. It was strong, but it wasn’t air conditioned. My fingers did not touch a thermostat for air conditioning until I was out of college and in my first apartment.
When I recall my 22 years without air conditioning, I don’t remember it as suffering. Those summers are entrenched in my mind as pleasant — filled with fresh, fragrant air that flowed through the windows and screen doors. I picture Mama and me sitting in the 1950s-style glider on the porch in the early evening, stringing beans from our garden and feeling the gentleness of dusk fall over us.
In those days, we slept with all three outside doors open and the screen doors latched. We arose in the morning to the sweet, cool air flowing in. I fell asleep in my tiny bedroom, daydreaming of life to come as crickets sang outside my window and squirrels scampered about. On the rare occasion of a heat wave, I took an ice cold bath before bed, which was the perfect remedy. Daybreak brought the happy singing of birds, which gave me a feeling of downright joy as my eyes opened to another day.
For these reasons, I struggle with air conditioning that calls for closed windows and doors and doesn’t promote a late-afternoon escape to the porch. That’s why I don’t turn on our air conditioning until June 1, so we can celebrate nature through open doors and windows. Ceiling fans throughout allow us to keep the thermostat in the high 70s while our back porch is scattered with rocking chairs, swings and colorful pillows that entice us to come out and enjoy summer evenings.
So, you see, I love — as most do — the comfort of air conditioning. But, oh, how I miss that time with nature and all that profound daydreaming I used to do.
Go to www.rondarich.com to sign up for Rich's newsletter.