It was with great relief that I walked into the air conditioned church this morning, but I remember when it wasn’t that way. Summer at Immaculate Conception meant that the stained glass windows (now permanently closed and sealed with protective outer coverings) were pushed up to let in the breeze, and we sat fanning ourselves with Rose Mortuary fans. I don’t remember being uncomfortable, or even thinking about it; it was just the way things were.
After all, we didn’t have central air at home, either. My parents had a window air conditioner and there was one in the dining room, too. The rest of us made do with open windows. We were outside almost all the time anyway. When we came in we would stand in front of the dining room unit and let it blow right on us at the coldest setting for awhile.
St. Joseph School was un-airconditioned then as well. The windows were kept open, and if you were lucky you got to sit in the first row and have the box fan blow on you.
Our Victorian house had central air–two units in fact, one for each floor. And the house was built for coolness back in pre-air conditioning days, with its high ceilings, large windows, and transoms above the bedroom doors. But the windows were mostly not operational, the air conditioners were old and not up to keeping the temperature down, and most summers we lived there one unit or the other would be down at least part of the time. We were used to the termperature downstairs hovering around 80 by the worst part of the summer.
I don’t think we even noticed our current house was without central air until we had already made the decision to move in. It’s a split level and the bottom floor has a unit that cools the den, bathroom, and four bedrooms there. But the middle floor with the kitchen, dining area, and kitchen, and the upper floor with two bedrooms, the office, and bathrooms, are devoid of that modern necessity, the air conditioner.
There was a time when I opined that we have all been spoiled by air conditioning, that we should expect to be warmer in the summer and colder in the winter, that air conditioning keeps people inside instead of outdoors exercising, enjoying the sunshine, sitting on the porch, and visiting with the neighbors. With nostalgia have I read the following passages from A Death in the Family, lamenting the passing of the Good Old Days:
We are talking now of summer evenings in Knoxville Tennessee in the time that I lived there so successfully disguised to myself as a child.
. . . It has become that time of evening when people sit on their porches, rocking gently and talking gently and watching the street . . .Now is the night one blue dew, my father has drained, he has coiled the hose. . . .
Parents on porches: rock and rock. From damp strings morning glories hang their ancient faces.
The dry and exalted noise of the locusts from all the air at once enchants my eardrums.
On the rough wet grass of the back yard my father and mother have spread quilts. We all lie there, my mother, my father, my uncle, my aunt, and I too am lying there.…They are not talking much, and the talk is quiet, of nothing in particular, of nothing at all in particular, of nothing at all. The stars are wide and alive, they seem each like a smile of great sweetness, and they seem very near. . .
So I thought we would fling open our windows, be grateful for the many shade trees, enjoy cool breezes on the patio, and embrace the warmth of summer. What with the whole house fan to circulate the evening’s cooler air, we did all of that and made out okay until a few days ago. The past two days, the outdoor temperature has reached at least 95 and there is not a breath of air anywhere. I wouldn’t be surprised if it was 90 in the main parts of the house. Even going outside brings no relief, unless a steambath is your idea of relief. When you walk up out of the air conditioning, it’s like ascending into Hell.
Taken by surprise by this heat wave, we had not yet set up all three of the portable units which came with the house. I have to give in and admit I am as spoiled as everyone else. I now have one of them more or less trained directly on me as I write, and I am feeling very grateful for modern technology.