It’s been hot here in Iowa lately. Judging from the weather maps I’ve seen, it’s probably been hot in your area, too.
I don’t know about you, but when hot, muggy air settles in around me it brings a friend – lethargy. Its arrival sends me scurrying for a cool refuge. This fact was reinforced over the weekend after I left the cool confines of an amply air-conditioned movie theater multiplex and emerged into the bright sunlight where a steamy blast of superheated air washed across my face. I couldn’t wait to get to my car where cool relief was just moments away.
While modern summer life presents a similar scenario for many of us in which our days consist of a string of visits to cool oases interspersed with brief unavoidable confrontations with Mother Nature, this is a fairly new phenomenon.
When I was a young child, we didn’t have air conditioning at all. In fact, it was a big selling point used by movie theaters in my home town. “Come inside where it’s 20 degrees cooler,” was their mantra. When my parents bought their first air conditioner, it was big, noisy and only cooled part of our small house. My brothers and I often slept on the floor of our living room in order to take advantage of its magical cooling powers.
Considering that much of Iowa didn’t even get electricity until the 1930s, even a fan was a luxury for many Iowans for the middle of the 20th century. So, I’m left wondering how people managed to get anything done in those pre-air-conditioned days.
A lot of it has to do with expectations, of course. You can’t miss what you’ve never had or even heard about. In an era where keeping milk and butter cool was a major summer challenge, creature comforts probably weren’t high on their list of priorities.
Still, as I write about those family members who came before me, I have great admiration and respect for all they endured just to make it through each day. From the stories that have been passed down, they were largely an uncomplaining lot. I try to keep that in mind as the sweat drips from my nose as I reach for another tomato in my small but bountiful garden.
As you write your own family history, remember to keep things in perspective. Your grandparents and great-grandparents lived in a much different environment than we do today.