It’s summer in Iowa and it’s hot. As Matthew Broderick said in the movie "Biloxi Blues," “Man it’s hot. It’s like Africa hot. Tarzan couldn’t take this kind of hot.” That sounds like Iowa in the summer.
To combat the heat, most of us go from our air-conditioned homes to our air-conditioned cars to some other air-conditioned place. For this convenience we need to thank Willis Haviland Carrier. Carrier invented the first electrical air conditioning unit in 1902. In 1915 he founded Carrier Corporation, which specialized in making heating, ventilation and air conditioning systems. Today we’re protected from the scorching heat with abundant air conditioning, but back when I was a kid in the ‘50s that wasn’t the case.
My house in North Omaha back then was not cooled by a/c and I don’t believe any of our neighbors had such a luxury. I know my friends in the neighborhood didn’t have it. To have such an extravagance in your home was unheard of. I don’t even remember having a fan in our house. The Baptist church we went to provided little paper fans the faithful could wave in front of their face to at least create a slight breeze, but they didn’t help much. However, there were places where we could go to get cooled off with refrigerated air.
Stores downtown proudly proclaimed such things on huge signs as “It’s cool inside” or simply “It’s Air Conditioned.” Movie theaters were another place where people could seek refuge from the sizzling heat and relax in air-conditioned comfort. Those respites from the heat were rare and only temporary so to get cool at home we had to devise some other methods.
Ice was one way to cool off. Occasionally my mother would give me an ice cube wrapped in a paper napkin and I could suck on that for a few minutes. When I was very young I remember the neighborhood kids could get a piece of ice from the ice man. Of course that all ended with the advent of electric refrigerators.
I remember one hot summer night I walked past my older brother’s room and I noticed he was gone and the screen on his window was unlocked. His bedroom overlooked the roof on the front porch. I checked it out and there he was sitting on the roof enjoying the cool night air. It looked good to me so I decided to join him. The only stipulation was “Don’t tell Mom!” No problem.
Since it was typically hotter during the day in the house than outside, my buddies and I spent most of our day in the great outdoors, especially in the park down the street. It might not have been any cooler but it was a lot of fun. And most of that fun involved dirt. We’d wrestle in the dirt, play cars in the dirt, dig for buried treasure and of course play baseball. We all went home covered from head to toe in good old Nebraska topsoil. Because we were sweating profusely, a more apt description would be we were covered with good old Nebraska mud.
Somehow back then we managed to survive the heat of summer, whether it was by going to a movie or sucking on an ice cube. Today it’s much simpler to keep cool, but I sure would like to sit on that roof with my brother one more time.
Terry Turner is a Prime writer who can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org