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Air conditioning has made us soft

It’s obvious that we’ve had one of the hottest summers in the history of the universe. I know because all of you have told me so. 


Usually people who can’t remember whether or not they put on their underwear that morning will easily recount the snow of ’27 or the summer of ’58, Hurricane Hazel or the ice storm of ’75. They can tell you what the weather was in any given year: how deep the snow was, the lows and highs that year, how thick the ice was (“we drove tractor trailers over the pond it was frozen so hard”), how the rivers went dry, shoes mildewed in the closet, how the asphalt melted in the street and ran down the ditches. 


“You think it’s cold,” they’ll brag, “you should have grown up during the Ice Age. We had to cuddle up to Wooly Mammoths to keep warm.” Or, “It was so hot our parents wouldn’t let us ride our bikes. They were afraid we’ll fall off and cook to death.” 


But this time it’s been different. No one seems to remember a hotter stretch of weather. 


I will admit that it’s been a hot one. I’ve noticed that I’ve been looking for parking spaces according to available shade rather than distance involved. And the hot weather has brought to mind jobs I’m thankful I don’t have, like paving roads and working on flat roofs. 


But I don’t remember it being hot when I was growing up. I remember it being cold a couple of times, but not hot. I think this was due to one convenience we didn’t have then: Air conditioning. 


There’s no telling how hot the summers would have been if we’d had air conditioning. Since we didn’t have it, the temperature was about the same inside as it was outside much of the time. You got used to it because you didn’t know the difference. 


Air conditioning has pretty much ruined us. Because of air conditioning, millions of people have been drawn to the South, not such a bad thing, although the same beaches we used to camp on for free now cost $300 a night. 


We’ve become a more private society. No one sits on the front porch anymore because not many of us have a front porch. I don’t know where everyone’s storing their old couches and washing machines now that houses don’t have front porches. Everyone’s out back in the shade of the patio or inside where it’s cool. 


Families used to gather on the front porch on summer nights, share stories, listen to the cicadas and everyone knew their neighbors. Now everyone is holed up inside watching TV.


Air conditioning has made most of us soft. You could always tell who had forgotten their deodorant back then. Air conditioning on cars was optional and expensive. Stores had ceiling fans and houses had wraparound porches, high ceilings and long central hallways. Churches passed out cardboard fans. Everyone had window fans.


Now many stores have it so cold in the summer that you could easily keep your frozen food there. If it was that cold outside in the winter, they’d have their heat on.


There’s no telling where we would be if we’d had air conditioning growing up. We would never have discovered the great outdoors, I’m sure. I’m certain that photographers Eric Abernethy and Jerry Wofford have complained that they rarely find children playing outside anymore when looking for a typical summer photograph. 


There was nothing to keep us inside in those days and our parents encouraged us to stay outside, often by locking us out. I used to think this was so that we could broaden our horizons, but now I’m not so sure. Anyway, we explored the out-of-doors, limited only by how far we could walk in one day barefooted. 


When we got overheated, we headed for grandpa’s pond. This was a cool sanctuary where the mud oozed up through your toes and the horseflies chewed on your neck. The main entertainment was mud or algae fights. The water was so murky you couldn’t have seen the Titanic on the bottom with a searchlight. 


Around the Fourth of July, our parents would ban us from the pond because of the dreaded Dog Days. Supposedly swimming holes became poisonous this time of year (July 3-August 11) but it was difficult for us to understand how a pond deep with mud and full of snakes, snapping turtles and algae could be poisonous. 


If we’d had air conditioning, we would have probably stayed indoors reading comic books where we would have become physical and mental vegetables instead of the marvelous natural specimens we are today. 


Heat is relative, anyway. I can be sweating and Sandra will look for a sweater to put on. In Minnesota, they put on T-shirts when the temperature gets to 30 and Canadians go swimming. Alaskans are feeling a heat wave at 70. Arizona residents stop shivering at 80 and Canadians are running the air full blast. Texans are drinking coffee at 100 and might undo their top button and turn on the fan. 


So, even if this turns out to be the hottest summer ever, a lot of us won’t have suffered much, all because of air conditioning. And air conditioning may have ruined the South, but now that I’ve got it, I sure ain’t giving it up.