Dealing with the Heat

I am so thankful for air conditioning. My air conditioning recently broke and I had to go a few days without it. I am so grateful to sit in its cool air again. This article from August 1980 reminds me again what a pleasure it is to have.

 

August 1980

 

During wheat harvest the Andale Co-op employees endured long, hot hours working at the scales and elevators. Even with the furnace- like heat and the blowing grain dust, they were pleasant and helpful. As a woefully inadequate truck driver I appreciate their Herculean effort to get the trucks back to the wheat field on time. Thanks a million for an efficient operation carried out under adverse weather conditions.

This terrible hot spell emphasizes the dependence most of us have on air conditioning as we rush from one refrigerated spot to the next one in an effort to escape the devastating heat. I am reminded of how we coped with the sweltering summers of the thirties when there was no air conditioning, and only the very rich owned electric fans. Of course, many farm homes had no electricity to run a fan if they had the money to buy one.

The bodies of both children and adults broke out with a miserable affliction called “heat.” This caused torment in sweaty areas where there were creases or folds in the skin such as the neck or waist. The skin erupted in tiny blisters that oozed, crusted over, and became red and inflamed. There was no cure for it except a drop in the temperature to bring cooler days and nights.

Out in the small towns and on the farms whole families slept outside to escape from the oven- like bedrooms. To me, as a kid it was great fun – lying on a rickety army cot listening to the whispering cottonwood trees with Mom and Dad close by to scare away the boogey men lurking in the scary shadows under the cedars.

I remember one sultry August night when no breath of air stirred in the backyard; so Dad led us, each carrying a pillow and comforter, to the top of a sandhill in the pasture where we bedded down on the ground. The brilliant stars were a sea of delight in the dark sky, and we were so alone in the universe and yet so warmly cared for and protected. A faint wind stirred out of the south cooling us off and we slept soundly on the sear buffalo grass. The first early morning light awakened the pesky bugs and biting flies who attacked and sent us scurrying homeward.

Then there was the summer of ’36. I was working at Newman Memorial Hospital in Emporia and lived in the nurse’s home – a 3-story brick structure about fifty feet from the hospital. All the windows faced east or west and the prevailing south winds could not get in to cool it off at night.

About 40 of us tried to sleep there after a hard day’s work on the hospital floor. No one owned a fan. To cope, we got ready for bed, stepped into a cold shower with our pajamas on, ran dripping to our beds and tried to get to sleep before we got hot again.

After a week of this an enterprising girl found a trap door leading to the flat sanded roof of the building. Since it was high from the ground a gentle breeze blew here nightly. At first we just spent the evenings on the roof cooling off, but the temptation to stay all night was too much. Soon student nurses and employees were sleeping nightly on every square foot of that roof. It was so refreshing to sleep well that the entire crew went to work. In the mornings, ready to endure the suffocating heat of the hospitals’ halls and rooms for another ten- hour shift and to give first- class patient care.

This practical solution to the heat was too good to last. Shortly, a patient or two on the 4th floor of the hospital noticed the nightly parade of sleepers. Soon the hospital superintendent was alerted to his employee’s rooftop rendezvous with rest. A decree was issued: “No more sleeping on the roof. It is morally corrupting for patients to see employees in night garments.”

To prevent any violations of this edict the trap door was nailed shut. What a blow to both our spirits and our health. It was practically unbearable to return to those stagnant bedrooms to sleep when blessed breezes blew a rooftop away. We should have rebelled, but in those days jobs were scarce and we were young and trained to obey the voice of authority.

I am glad that the world of today has a more realistic attitude about the relationship between modesty and comfort, even though modesty sometimes seems to be losing the battle.

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