When it got hot outside, as it most usually did during the summer months, enterprising Missouri folks scrambled to find several “cool” ways to stay, well, cool.
August always seemed to be the month that stood out as the hottest and driest of the 12. Adding insult to injury, the edge of the end of summer was also our last full month of freedom before returning to school in early to mid-September. But we made the most of it.
After the War ended, when I was immersed in being a young adolescent still in single digits, some of the stores, shops, markets and movie theatres downtown began creating and making possible various forms of air conditioning. While none were as sophisticated as today, we thought they were sensational. Some of these inventions consisted of blowing air over a bed of ice into a room, thereby cooling off the people inside.
This would bring on signs advertising “It’s COOL inside” and “Air-Cooled for your Comfort”, or something along those lines. So it was nice to visit these places; especially the grocery stores and new “super” markets. There we could balance on our stomachs on the counter edge of the frozen meat displays, and bask, if only briefly, in the bracing cold air that came up from the packages of steaks, chicken and ground beef to sweep over our faces.
Another “cool down” practice was in pilfering ice chips off the back of ice delivery trucks (many people still had ice-cooled refrigerators or separate “deep-freezes” in their homes)…where after sucking the sweet goodness out of our little ice treat, we’d slide the remainder down the backs of our necks when it became too small to hold—providing one last shiver of ecstasy.
These were mostly daytime endeavors. At night, if you were too young or otherwise engaged to venture downtown on your own, other moves had to be made. I mention briefly in my book how families would jump in their cars on hot nights and drive slowly around town with all the windows down (or if you had a convertible, which few did, the top), trying to catch a breeze. That was one way.
Still another practice was to sit out on your front porch, or even the lawn. People didn’t have decks in those days – and even if they did, they wouldn’t have called them “decks.” People would gather in swings, folding chairs, those horribly uncomfortable metal “lawn” chairs or just blankets on the ground—and talk, tell stories, look up at the night sky, and observe and wave to people walking or driving while trying to stay as comfortable as possible.
But the king of all devices in keeping cool during this time was the “electric” fan. A select few had ceiling fans, but usually only one, not one in almost every room as seems to be the case today. Most families had “floor” fans; big steel monsters, some with a wingspan of up to two feet or more, usually painted in gray, green or the ubiquitous black. The majority came with three speeds, and some could be set to “oscillate” … turn from side to side.
When I was little, we had at least two floor fans in our house, one larger than the other (some were very heavy and difficult to carry around). The larger of the two remained in the living room, where we usually congregated, or on the front porch, where Dad would at times set up the fan linked to an extension cord that snaked back into the house via our “slap-hinged” screen door to an outlet. The smaller of the two machines usually stayed with me in my bedroom; my little brother had yet to show up.
Still later, Mom and Dad invested in a large box fan, which was placed in an upstairs window. These big babies (about 3 feet square) came equipped with big blades that would rotate both forward and reverse, expelling hot air from the house or pulling in the cooler outside variety. Noisy, but effective. Sort of like the attic fans of today.
As a very small child and when it was terribly hot, Mom would make it possible for me (and later brother Jerry) to take an afternoon nap on the living room floor. She would set up a pallet with a small pillow, with our big green oscillating fan nearby. Putting the speed indicator on “2”, it would always cool me off and take me into a light sleep with little trouble.
Tough as it was on many people of the period, in general the heat just didn’t get to us as much in those days as it does today. Were we more hardy, perhaps? Or just easier to please?
I’m leaning toward the latter.