Friday, August 22, 2014


"I was a child of the sixties...."

This July night is cool...and quiet, too, except for the child size snoring of Gabe in the room across the hall. Gabe and Abbie are spending the night; Abbie has the big bed all to herself because Gabe prefers the rugged individualism of the thin foam mattress of the cot.
This cot is no longer new; it's a sturdy Swedish model procured from LLBean a number of years ago. If it had a conscious, it would be amused at its desirability and glamour among the younger set.
When Ben was a baby, he slept in the wooden playpen that had been mine when we visited my folks' house. It is a tribute to the peaceful flexibility of babies that he slept contentedly on that old hard thing. He graduated from the playpen to a cot in our room; my grandfather's wooden Army cot, still solid after all those years, smelling of the basement on which it had been stored for decades and faintly of the moth balls that preserved the ancient woolen Army blanket that acted as mattress. It was low to the ground and I do not recall him ever falling out of it.
This cool night is an anomaly. It may even set a record. I do not believe July was ever cool when I was growing up. I slept on the top bunk as near to the edge as was prudent, hoping to catch an errant whiff from the box fan stuck in the open window. The nights were never quiet; people were outside chatting in the dusk way past my bedtime awaiting any faint breeze. The fans were important fixtures in my life and I remember each one. There was the 24" fan with the powder blue casing that my father used to exhaust the hot air from the garage. I got in serious trouble one time when I threw water into the big fan, relishing the refreshing mist it sprayed back on my face. The other fan was no more than 16" across but the high powered motor would blast the hot air like a turbojet engine. It was an almost iridescent metallic gray, heavy for its size, and a serious piece of mid 20th century engineering. Granny had the best fan of all, though: an older style,black enamel with a gold fillet on the base and motor. The blades were elaborately caged for safety's sake, and it boasted three speeds. What made it a cut above all others was its ability to oscillate. Turn the dial and a mere one dimensional breath of air became a zephyr of comfort, cycling back to refresh the breathless soul with a barely perceptible 'click'. Oscillation! What a civilizing concept!
My other grandparents were outasight on the early adopter's curve of climate control. One summer when I was still quite young we showed up for a visit and there was a behemoth of an appliance in the front window of the living room. It was loud and large, but it was the first home air conditioner I had ever encountered. That air conditioner didn't keep us from sleeping with the windows open at night though, sweating to firecrackers in June and cicadas in July, but the living room with the televisions and my grandfather's recliner was now climate controlled during waking hours.
When Grandma and Grandpa installed central air, the behemoth window unit traveled back up to Orland Park in the back of our Dodge Dart. In my mind it looms large as our refrigerator, but surely that's an exaggeration of my memory. My father installed it in the living room wall. We could have cool air, but not much and not too cool. All the doors on the house were to be closed so the cool air could be conserved and confined to the kitchen, dining room and living room. At night we opened the doors for circulation after the air conditioner was turned off.
Our neighbors in Orland Park had a swimming pool. We could only see a corner of it through my mom's flower bed and our neighbor's shrubbery, but sound travelled just fine across the boundary lines and there was many a wistful and wasted glance in the direction of all the shrieking and splashing. Even though Orland Park flooded a flat lot for wintertime skating, there was no public pool in the town. Visits to Missouri meant pumping up inner tubes on a hot afternoon and walking down a mown path through the pasture to our biggest farm pond (christened Lake Ginger in honor of my mom). The water was bath warm from the sun for the first foot, but down below where our feet and the little fishies swam, it was calm and cool. These outings were marred only by efforts to exit the pond without becoming mired in the muck or squishing a dozen stricken frogs. Even better was summer vacation, no matter where we travelled because there was always the chance the motel we pulled into might have a POOL!
Water is the final antidote to the dust coated weariness of August. From coast to coast, forbidden Great Lake to frigid mountain stream, urban fountain to Kansas chlorine, cool blue opposes blistering orange on the color wheel of comfort.

Like cattle shoulder deep in a farm pond and hogs in the damp of their mud holes, humans escape heat any way they can. Kids spray squirt guns and bust balloons; they float in galvanized tanks and hike with their towels to the deep spots in creeks. They will finish any household chore assigned just so they can strip down to their chlorine faded suits and while away those super heated summer days in a pool.

That's the coolest spot of all.

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