• 88°
Larry Penkava

Beating the heat, and other summer hazards

By
Larry
Penkava
Summer officially begins this week and I’m reminded of how people used to deal with the heat back in the ’50s.
I can’t think of anybody in our neighborhood who had central air in their homes when I was growing up south of Franklinville. Instead, everybody depended on fans to keep cool.
There were oscillating fans, box fans and even hand-held funeral home fans. The bottom line was, you had to have something to move the air while you watched “I Love Lucy.” Otherwise, you’d drown in your own sweat.
If you wanted to go somewhere really cool, the nearest building with AC was Leonard’s Drive-In, just up the road on Highway 64. If you bought a big RC Cola, Leonard just might tolerate you taking up a booth for a couple of hours.
Retail businesses were the first to install AC, probably as a means of getting customers in their stores. But Mr. Carrier’s invention was a bit too much expense for most homeowners.
My parents dealt with the hot air by setting up a large industrial-sized fan in the window between the kitchen and the enclosed back porch. Rather than have it blow into the house, they had it blow outward, keeping all the windows open just wide enough to create a draft by suction.
That worked pretty well in the absence of air-conditioning. The fan also gave off a pretty loud roar that made going to sleep at night easier.
The big worry for me was finding myself awake when Mama decided to turn the fan off for the night. Then I’d lie there, eyes wide open, listening to every creak and groan the house uttered.
There was also one period of my young life when getting to bed early was important for a good night’s sleep for another reason. That’s the time when Grandma was staying with us until her little two-room house was being built in the backyard.
Grandma slept in the lower berth of the set of bunk beds in which I occupied the upper. I knew I’d better get to bed and be fast asleep before Grandma retired for the night or I was in trouble.
You see, Grandma, for all her good qualities, was an uproarious snorer, bless her heart. For the life of me, why the neighborhood dogs didn’t howl at night to the rhythm of her snorts and wheezes I’ll never know.
Summertime was for fun, with no worries and sleeping in ‘til the sun rose high in the sky before a young boy was expected to get out of bed. But for me, bedtime came early to avoid a double dose of Grandma snoring and the fan shutting down for the night.
Otherwise, I had to cover my head with my pillow, even on those nights when the temperature barely dropped below 80.
Ironically, there were nights when I went to sleep just fine, then got up in the wee hours while still asleep. Mama said she found me sleepwalking on the back porch one night, opening the deep freezer.
I can only guess that I was dreaming about something cold — like ice cream.
One night I got up wide awake and went to the freezer, apparently looking for relief from the heat. I reached in and one of my fingers stuck to a frozen metal rod that was part of a basket used for storing frozen foods.
My powers of reasoning must have stayed in bed because I then proceeded to attempt to free my finger by wetting it with my tongue. My tongue-on-metal story predated that of Flick’s tongue stuck to the frozen flagpole in the movie, “A Christmas Story,” by about 30 years. While the story was set in the ‘40s, the film was shot in 1983.
In my case, Mama must have wondered the next day where that piece of meat that she found stuck on the metal rod came from.
I could only be thankful for the quick-healing powers of the tongue. I think the tip of my tongue had regenerated by the time school started in the fall.
Looking back, I don’t think I ever went back to the freezer for a late-night escapade.
Unless it was with gloves on.

Larry Penkava, who has written Now and Then since 1994, has changed his late-night venue from the freezer to the bathroom.