To Air Is Human

Posted: Friday, July 1, 2011 at 10:36 am
By: Doug Lund
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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.

 air cond window 2

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:

air cond plastic

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.


  1. grouse says:

    \\I don’t think Clara and Larry ever drove a Cadillac back to S.D. They always drove the biggest, most loaded down with extras Chrysler New Yorker!! And, I’m pretty sure that he traded every year, just to knock our socks off out here. If memory serves me correctly when they came out to the farm, while dad was still in the field, Uncle Larry would start happy hour with some highballs at around 1:45. Then once dad was back in the house, Clara and Larry would treat the folks to life in the fast lane with highballs at cocktail hour. During hunting season, Uncle Larry would bring some of the Chicago executives and relatives out to hunt on the farm. Dad never charged anyone, but those old boys brought lots of bottles of Chicago’s finest distilled products that were then relegated to the basement or very high in the pantry shelves to be used only for medicinal purposes, extreme frostbite during blizzards, or when mom’s brothers and cousins stopped by for a visit. Their visit was always a highlight of the summer. They were so sophisticated and wise in the ways of the world. The hell of it is…They really, really were.

  2. hardass555 says:

    i remember all this…i love this post

  3. prairierose says: I remember those days. Temp setting at 100 and Dad calmly saying “it will get better, once we get on the road”…natural a/c in the old Studebaker…4 windows down and 60mph. LOL 5 kids stuffed in the back seat of that car and it flew like the rocket it looked like as Dad tried to outrun the sounds of kids whining. Thanks, Doug. I had forgotten that part of ‘the good old days’.

  4. grouse says:

    You triggered another memory prairierose. My dad had a 1950 blue Buick 4-door. He thought radios in cars was just a passing fad, and air-conditioning at the time was extremely futuristic and it too was a passing fad or would never work. Something else to break down. On real hot Sundays we’d go for a drive to cool off…..100 degrees…cooling off at 25 to 30 mph looking at crops around the country….with no radio. Men and boys didn’t wear shorts in the fifties, but t-shirts were allowed after church. It was a time when the supposed cure was worse than the illness. I’ll think I’ll go out in the backyard right now and bow down to my trusty central air conditioner. If my dad were alive today. he’d would be dumbfounded by the stupidity of today’s drivers cruising around in the heat with their car windows shut tight.

  5. Per Pål P says:

    Hei Grouse….

    Did that 50 Buick have one of those ventilators on the hood ? With the “vent windows” cranked wide open…back windows open…and the hood ventilator wide open….One couldn’t hear a radio anyway.

  6. Per Pål P says:

    Dad’s Root Beer ?
    One of my memories….On hot summer days…we would “pull” an ice cold Dad’s Root Beer from a pop cooler filled with ice.
    Is Dad’s Root Beer available anywhere in Sioux Falls…or elsewhere ? In glass bottles ?
    As we say in Norsk…. Ahhhh det smaker godt…. Per Pål

  7. grouse says:

    Per Pal…I don’t think so. If it did have it, I’m pretty sure we never used it.

  8. June Devitt says:

    Dad’s root beer is in plastic qt. bottles at Dollar Tree in SF. Dollar Tree is the only true dollar store in SF. They sometimes run out but its worth a try. …I always give my sons and husband Dad’s Root Beer on fathers day! Enjoy your blog Doug. June Devitt

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