Opinion: Air conditioning became essential in summertime
May 20, 2020
I’m writing this on a warm morning, settled in near the air conditioner with outside temperatures already well past 90 degrees and climbing.
This was always a hopeful time of year when I was a kid. School was out — or we were breathlessly counting the minutes. The garden was planted. Our old mossy swimming tank was freshly filled with ice-cold water. We were close enough to watermelon season to taste them.
We grew up without air conditioning. Our mother had a strange aversion to new inventions. For long years while others were living in the comfort of mechanically chilled air, she swore off the idea. She had a similar aversion to dishwashers.
When summer came, every window in the house was open for the duration.
A large and noisy turquoise blue box fan had a permanent place in the hallway where it ran from mid-morning until bedtime. When my brothers and I crouched behind it and yelled through the whirling blades, it twisted our voices and amused us endlessly.
During an intensive hot spell, our parents installed a leaky evaporative cooler in one of their bedroom windows, which meant that one — and only one — room in our house had cooler air.
A window unit swamp cooler is better than nothing if the outside air stays dry. In the event of humidity (which does happen now and again), not much cooling takes place.
Occasionally we piled into the station wagon to visit one of our mom’s best friends about 20 miles away. Bobbie had a magical machine: the first refrigerated air conditioner I remember.
It was installed in the north wall of her living room, about eye level to a kid. The front grill was festooned with wind power demonstrating plastic ribbons that probably came with it from the store, the kind that stood straight out like flags in an eastern New Mexico sandstorm.
Bobbie had a chair or a couch just below that marvelous cooler. I remember sitting on my knees with icy wind blowing through my hair. It was pure bliss.
By the time we were in junior high or so, we made the transition to a giant swamp cooler on top of the house and, eventually, converted to two small refrigerated units. If I turn them on early enough on a sizzling day, they keep the whole house tolerable.
(In the interest of full disclosure, we eventually invested in a dishwasher, too, against my mother’s wishes. Like air conditioning, it became immediately indispensable.)
Yep, summer seems to be arriving. It’s time to switch on those ceiling fans, too. While you’re up, will you bring me an iced tea?
Betty Williamson is also ready for a cold slice of watermelon. Reach her at: