Tuesday, June 11, 2013
Sweating it out: A Summer Story
It is a disaster of gigantic proportions, according to my husband, equal only to the weekend the cable television went out. To me, the death of our seven year old central air conditioning was just--shrug--one of those things. Nothing lasts forever. It would have lasted a sight longer, said our technician, if we had remembered to regularly change the air filter. Ooops. Okay, you try remembering something such as that when you're running from one job to the next. Still, point taken. I knew how he felt, He'd installed one of his babies for us and we hadn't lived up to our end of the bargain. I groveled a bit, claiming my husband's chronic condition and my over-worked schedule. He finally relented , claiming he could probably replace the condenser--or whatever makes the thing work--for around $600.
In the meantime, though, we were without that wonderful commodity known as central air for at least a couple weeks, and a heat wave was coming right at us. We have ceiling fans, so we're not totally dead in the water on this, and we've still got a couple of box fans in the basement from our pre-central air days. We hauled them up, dusted them off, and set them up in central locations. After three days of straight 92 degree weather, we became adept at positioning the fans and keeping the shades down against the day time sun. Then a beautiful, rousing thunderstorm--the kind that only summer can bring--lowered the temperatures to a more comfortable 75 degrees.
And I made a discovery, something I probably knew as a kid but forgot after so many years of insulating myself inside an artificially cooled environment: summer demands open windows. My father, who retired to the beach fifteen years ago, tells me that summer is supposed to be hot. He's right; that's exactly why we call it summer. The word "summer" originates from several Old English, German, and Dutch words meaning "strength and warmth". My dad's beach house is fully air-conditioned, but he prefers to sit on his screened-in porch with the ceiling fan on low and a cold beer in his hand. Not a bad way to spend a lazy summer day.
So with the temps in the 70's and my fans positioned in the exact right places to circulate air through the house--because it is just lack of movement that makes the air feel really, really hot--I threw open my windows to the sounds of summer. In the morning, I discovered, the birds that gathered around the back feeder thanked us with trilling melodies, blending in with the tinkling sounds of the wind chime in the tree. And as school let out, more and more children cavorted in their backyards, happily splashing into pools and shooting baskets into hoops. The darkening of evening brought with it its own sweet sounds: locusts chirping the next day's temperature, dogs engaging in the twilight bark, and the sound of the ice cream truck rounding the corner.
As I have waited for the technician to find the needed part, I have not only thrown open my windows to the sounds of summer, I have cast my mind back to those summer days of my youth, before ac units blocked our windows. "It's so much hotter now than we we were kids," people have told me when I mention that we are, for the time being, going without air conditioning. Not true, I am afraid. According to the National Weather Service, Pennsylvania--my home sweet home--ranks 34th in the list of "hottest states"; in fact, in 2008, the last year official records were kept, the median temperature of the summer was a lovely 72 degrees. Sure, there are the dog days of August and those streaks of days reaching into the nineties, but for the most part, summer is more warm than hot. "Warm" is defined as "giving off a moderate amount of heat" while "hot" is giving off a "maximum amount of heat". Now that's clear. Back in 1968, the year by dad bought the Westinghouse fan on wheels which provided our only source of air circulation in the summer time, the temperature reached 89 degrees on July 8; the rest of the month we enjoyed a balmy 74 degrees or so.
Often, we blame humidity for our summer discomfort. Human beings just do not like moisture on their skin. However, I could find no information to indicate that the humidity has increased over the years. Maybe we've just forgotten how to handle it.
So if you, like me, have a conked our air conditioner or maybe just want to lower those PECO power and light bills in the summer time, I've got a few suggestions, culled from my grandmother's advice. Open your windows in the morning to let in the cool breezes and try to get a good cross ventilation going. After lunch, shut the shades and the curtains and call the kids in to color or do puzzles. Drink plenty of water and when the heat gets to you, jump into a cool shower for a couple of minutes. Dab Seabreeze--a lovely, summer "medicinal lotion" that contains menthol and can be had for a mere $12.00--onto your neck and wrists. It even smells like summer. And when all else fails, take that cold beer--or iced tea, if you prefer--to the back deck. Enjoy the great outdoors this summer, because the gray and rainy days of winter in the Northeast will be here all too soon.
Treat yourself! It's summer!