Sure.. no sooner am I convinced that Summer is going to take the whole summer off this year, along comes a day like Thursday when mercury in the thermometer shoots up like Old Faithful and sends everyone scrambling to find an air conditioner to hug. So what do I do on this brain boiling hot afternoon? Like an idiot, I decided to fire up the lawn mower. It had to be done. We have company coming and the grass was getting tall enough to bale. Usually, Linda is home when I mow and I can see her peaking out the windows from time to time keeping an eye on my progress. She also has her cell phone at the ready in case she spots me lying in a heap on the lawn and needs to call 911. But Linda was out of town spending the day with her mom so I was extra careful to pace myself and not keel over from heat exhaustion. Other than being unable to see because of all the sweat dripping into my eyes the chore was completed without incident and I finished my next assignment (making out checks to pay the bills) inside the house sitting down with an ice cold beer in my hand and frigid air from an A/C register blowing on my legs.
As much as I’ve grown to despise extreme heat (mid 90’s or higher) I just don’t remember having a big problem with it in my youth. Oh, I recall hot days, of course, but we had no choice but to deal with it; find some shade or a body of water because nobody had air conditioned cars or houses. I think a couple of the stores downtown, like Tupper Pharmacy, were air conditioned but you could only hang out there for so long before being asked to leave. None of us boys ever wore short pants either. Blue jeans with a three inch cuff was the uniform of the day winter AND summer. .
In the fifties, my wealthy aunt Clara and her husband, Larry would motor up from Chicago during the summer to spend a few days with family in South Dakota. They always drove fancy new Cadillacs which were equipped with the latest devices to keep them cool on their long journey. The first one I remember looked like this.
The Thermador Car Cooler resembled a canister vacuum cleaner hooked to the passenger window. It had a reservoir that held about a gallon of water which evaporated when the car was in motion cooling the inside. It would need to be refilled about every 100 miles. Some models had a fan that forced air through the cooler tube even when the vehicle wasn’t moving.
Then one year Aunt Clara drove up in a car with “factory” air that looked like this:
These early air conditioning units were mounted in the trunk and had clear plastic vent tubes projecting into the vehicle cabin blasting cold air on the back of passenger’s necks. Scoops were mounted atop the rear fenders to ram outside air into the unit.
Funny, I don’t think they ever offered me a ride in their car so I, too, could experience the refreshing effects of this man-made cooling breeze on a dusty dry hot Dakota day. Perhaps they thought it best not to spoil me with pleasures that were beyond my poor parents’ financial power to duplicate. Better not expose the boy to caviar when his palate is content with pickled herring.
I always loved Clara and Larry’s visits, though. Not only did they bring presents for us boys but, like most city folks, they both enjoyed a cocktail before dinner (supper) and insisted that mom and dad share in this tradition for the duration of their stay. Larry would say, “Harry, it looks like the sun is over the yardarm, can I fix you and Gladys a highball?” “Sure,” my dad would say and off Larry would go to get a leather case out of the Caddie’s trunk and a big bottle of ginger ale. Mom had already filled the ice cube tray with fresh water in anticipation of this ritual. Then Larry reached into the leather case and pulled out a brown bottle with the word Seagrams and a big red letter 7 on the label. He’d carefully measure out a shot of the golden liquid into a little silver cup he also had in the case and pour it into an ice filled glass. After topping it off with the ginger ale, he’d give the concoction a stir with a silver wand also from the case.
They never had more than one or two but sure enjoyed the experience and there seemed to be more laughter than usual coming from the kitchen as mom and her sister fixed supper.
I remember once, finding a nearly empty Seagrams bottle they’d left and mom had tucked way back in the cupboard. I took a sip and nearly gagged. But, like caviar and air conditioning, I eventually learned to appreciate the finer things in life; occasionally to excess. Thanks Aunt Clara and Uncle Larry.