I wouldn’t be a typical American guy if I didn’t want to talk about the weather once in awhile. It has always kind of a national sport, I think, enhanced by the 24/7 availability of forecasts and alerts via the Weather Channel on cable TV and the sheer gaggle of weather-centric websites on the internet.
So you don’t really need to hear about it from me.
But hey, it’s been hot. So hot, in fact, that the above-mentioned sources, plus our local weather outlets have been, from time to time, announcing something called a Heat Advisory, which, according to the National Weather Service, means “that a period of unseasonably hot and humid weather is expected.”
In the midwest.
And while it’s good to know when it’s going to be extra hot and sticky, it’s nothing new for those who have lived and worked in this part of the country and know what to expect.
Last summer was unusually cool, which only served to give a lot of people something new and exciting to complain about. But after a beautiful, temperate spring and a wet, wet June, this season is back to the same old sultry summertime temps most of us grew up with. Our old house is heated by a boiler, so central air is undoable, except via a pricey retrofit. While we have window units in some of the rooms, we tend to turn them on and off, like lights, when we come and go, if we use them at all. This is not, I admit, out of a sense of energy-saving virtue, but because I am a skinflint and think summer is the one time I don’t have to pay to heat the place. Our high-ceilinged house takes awhile to really warm up, but once it does, the mass of hot, damp air hangs like a dank, pervasive cloud, especially in the upstairs bedrooms.
She: Do you think we should turn on the air upstairs?
Me: Maybe we should just go out and sit in the car with the air conditioner running.
But eventually all my power-saving plans fall short, and we are forced to get out of the car and actually turn on the noisy, underpowered cooling machine that rattles and roars in a bedroom window.
She: I think it’s getting cooler in here.
Me: It’s certainly getting louder.
I got an extra dose of summertime fun last week, when my bachelor brother-in-law, who is generally unperturbed by hot weather, decided it was time to install his old, seldom-used window unit. We dragged it out of its closet storage space, did a clumsy, two-man shuffle getting it across the room, jammed it into a window and let it rip. A couple of hours later, his apartment was, perhaps, five or ten degrees hotter than before, probably owing to the heat we had generated putting the darn thing in place so that it could blow nothing but warm air across the room.
One major household purchase later, we were at it again, jerking the old, non-functioning unit out in not-so-gentle fashion, then horsing the new, more powerful version into position.
The resulting cool blast of air on my sweaty frame reminded me of the old saying about heating with wood: It warms you twice--once when you cut it and once when you burn it. I’m not sure how it’s supposed to work with air conditioners, but we were plenty hot before we finally began to cool down.
But what we’re experiencing now is nothing compared to the weather our parents and grandparents endured back in the 30’s.
Like 1936, when parts of Illinois saw temperatures rise above 100 degrees for as many as 18 days in a row, while the region saw over two months’ worth of 90-plus days. Remember, air conditioning was in its early stages, and pretty much unknown in both homes and businesses. And even electric fans were puny things that didn’t do much more than try to stir a bit of hot, humid air.
My mother, who by coincidence, grew up in the home where we live now, used to tell stories of what some folks did to beat the nighttime heat, According to mom, families would trudge into the park across the street at twilight, spread sheets on the grass, and bed down in a kind of communal campout that probably could only occur in a kinder, gentler time, when everyone knew everyone else and they all knew that they were in it together. Likewise, stuffy living rooms were replaced by front porches, where people sat at night in hopes of catching a breeze, while greeting friends and neighbors who were passing by in search of the same.
Nowadays, it’s hard to imagine anybody leaving central air, the latest reality show and the family Wii just to hunker down in Wiley Park and count the number of mosquitos on grandma’s nose. And the front porch is more often just a spot where newspapers are thrown and mail deposited, not a place for a nightly neighborhood meet and greet.
But there was a time when folks expected hot weather and lived with it. A time when a warm summer night was a reason to stay outside, sip a cool glass of lemonade, count the stars...and count your blessings, too.
But pretty cool, too.