Hot Times and Cold Play

Now Playing: 4 + 20, by Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young. “Four and Twenty years ago, I come into this life, Son of a woman And a man who lived in strife. He was tired of being poor, But he wasn’t into selling door to door. And he worked like a devil to be more.”

Austin was griping the other day because the car he was taking driver’s ed in had no AC. Which I must admit didn’t seem like a good thing to me. But it got me thinking about growing up in Southside Va. As Harper Lee says in To Kill a Mockingbird, “it was hotter then.” And when I was growing up in the ’60s, we had no AC. And I’m not talking about in the cars  (though we didn’t have it in them, either). I’m talking about the house.

We moved in that house in 1963. I can remember it being built, and we’d go to see the progress once in awhile. One time I got licked by a cow. Big time. I like to think that’s why my hair goes every which way – blame it on the cowlick.

Anyway, we’d put all the windows up, and use a window fan to blow out to create a breeze. That’s how we’d sleep at night. In the cars, we’d roll the windows down.

And while i remember it being hot – really hot – during those summers, it was never terrible. Contrast that with this morning, when I nearly had a heat stroke just going out to get the mail.

I remember the winters being colder, too. It always snowed a couple of times, it seemed like. We’d go out in the woods and find a Christmas tree most years. They weren’t our trees, but somehow it didn’t seem wrong to go cut them and haul them back to the house. When it did snow, we’d go on the neighbor’s property – OK, it was a cow pasture back in the woods – and find a hill for our sleds. We’d sled for hours on the neighbor’s property. They never complained. We’d make snow ice cream, just taking for granted that the snow was clean. It was quite a treat.

Back to summer. For many years I worked in tobacco during the summers. Until I got old enough to do something … anything … else, which turned out to be working in a clothing store. But even on the hottest days of summer, my friend Mike and I played basketball every day at the school. Literally every day. Sometimes we’d play during our lunch breaks from working in tobacco. If not then, we’d go after work. (You’d think I would have gotten better at it. Alas, my height – or lack thereof – and eyes conspired to keep me in the stands. Mike, meanwhile, was a good athlete and played on the local high school team, which was pretty damn good. We went to the Va. Final Four three straight years while I was in school, losing twice to Mose Malone and once to a Richmond school that had two ACC players.) There were water fountains outside the school, but the water was usually hot. There were some inside, too, if you knew how to get in. I’m not saying we did, but the inside water was always cooler. And it tasted better.

And these days I can’t get the mail without nearly dying. And can’t the kids outside to do much of anything (short of going to Carowinds). And can’t sleep without the AC and the fan going (and sometimes not even then).

I remember when we finally got a wall unit. It kept one room cool, our den. For sleeping, we still depended on the fans blowing out and the bedroom windows being down. Finally we got another unit, more powerful than the first, which we still used. And we got cars wtih AC, as nearly every Southerner does these days. The last time I lived without AC was at Carolina. I suppose even that’s changed now.

The summers were hotter then. But we were cooler. In more ways than one.

People don’t notice whether it’s winter or summer when they’re happy. _ Anton Chekhov


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