Mama Remembers The South Before Air-Conditioning
FYI, she thinks we've all gotten a little whiny about the heat—and the humidity.
“Living without air-conditioning used to be normal to Southerners," Mama says. “But everybody’s gotten so used to being cool all the time that people can’t even go outside without burning up. We never used to complain about the heat. We just said, ‘Well, it’s summer.’ And we drank a lot of water.”
Mama’s got a point. Modern air-conditioning has made us all a little fussy about the heat. And the humidity. We don’t want to sweat in our pantyhose. We don’t even want to wear our pantyhose. And we tend to think there must be a way to keep our hair from frizzing and our mascara from running between the bathroom and the carport. Southern air-conditioning changed our lives just as surely as Spanx did.
But as much as we love keeping the thermostat on 72 (or below) in July, there’s something about the way Mama talks about life with no air-conditioning that makes us wish we had her pioneer spirit:
The Ice Man “Cameth”
“When I was growing up, everybody didn’t have a refrigerator,” Mama remembers. “We had an ice box, and the ice man would come around selling big blocks of it. That ice was clear—not like the cloudy-looking stuff we have now—and we’d chip off pieces to put in our tea. Sweet tea tasted SOOOOOO good with that ice.”
Mama’s A Fan of the Fan
“You have to remember that Southern homes were well ventilated,” Mama points out. “Every bed was positioned in front of windows, which we kept wide-open in the summertime. We’d put electric box fans in some of the windows to draw in cool night air. (Of course, during the daytime they drew in hot air.) And then in the living room, we had a big Westinghouse fan on a stand.”
“If you had to help pick, say, an acre of peas, you started around 5:30 in the morning,” Mama remembers. “You didn’t dillydally around if you had work to do outside. You’d have your vegetables gathered by about 7. And back then we had to shell everything by hand.”
Dress For It
“We all wore shorts and loose cotton clothes in the summertime,” Mama remembers. “Nothing clingy and hot. I didn’t wear a sunhat back then, and I’m paying for it now. Everybody ought to wear a sunhat and sunscreen.”
Sunday Go to Meetin’
“Was the church air-conditioned?” Mama looks surprised by the question. “Of course not! We fanned ourselves with those Liberty National cardboard fans—or the ones advertising the funeral home.”
What, I wondered, did Southerners do when the heat occasionally did get to them back in the day? “We went to the creek,” Mama says with a shrug.
I told her I don’t have any childhood memories of her having to call me inside because of the heat.
“I raised you to have sense enough to know when you were hot,” Mama said.
Thank you, Mama. I’m a better woman for it.
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