- The Washington Times - Tuesday, May 23, 2000

As much as I moan and groan during winter's coldest days, I have to admit I would much rather shiver than swelter. It wasn't always that way. Like most children, I relished summer's heat because it signaled that school's end was near and I would soon be spending my long, hot days at the cool, wet pool.
When I was young in the time that my children endearingly dub "the olden days" air conditioning was a rarity. I enjoyed the cool comfort of a movie on a hot summer day or shopping in an air-conditioned store. But I really don't remember longing for the luxury of an air-conditioned home.
Now I don't want to live without it.
We must lose our natural tolerance for heat as we age. I know that's true because my mother always loathed the heat. I still bear the emotional scars from the time when she, eight months pregnant and sweltering in a poolside chair, pushed away my offered hug and told me to "come back in December."
But I kept my childhood ability to withstand heat for years. Time and again, my husband and I chose to live in homes without air conditioning, selecting historic charm over modern convenience.
Unfortunately, choices that seemed so wise when we were sitting in front of a roaring fire on a cold winter evening seemed positively insane during Washington's notorious heat waves. During one such especially hot and humid stretch, the entire family staged nightly camp-outs in the living room, right under the only window air conditioning unit in the house.
The setup with blankets, sleeping bags and a "fort" made out of chair and couch cushions was so attractive (at least to the under-10 crowd) that by the week's end a half-dozen neighborhood children had joined our indoor campsite. As I surveyed my unplanned summer camp, I couldn't stop thinking about all those children's beds lying empty in their air-conditioned homes nearby.
I would have gladly traded my floor space for their cool beds, but no matter how hard I tried, I couldn't find a good line to explain why I was knocking on their parents' doors in the middle of the night in my pajamas.
Having long lost our immunity to heat, my husband and I made air conditioning a prerequisite when we decided upon our current home. Last summer when the weather grew oppressive, we gleefully turned on the air and felt at the brink of the 21st century totally modern. But in mid-July, right in the middle of a brutal heat wave when some out-of-town friends had arrived for an extended visit, the system failed.
We were devastated, and with four adults and 10 children in a small house, we were also very, very hot.
But the system was soon repaired and we survived the rest of the summer in relative comfort. Then, just a few weeks after a surprise April snowstorm buried our blooming buds with 4 inches of snow, we were blasted with a sneak attack of summer heat in May.
We turned on the air and nothing happened. The temperature actually rose because we had to close all the windows to give the system a true test. Neither my husband nor myself wanted to admit we were trapped in a house with no cooling when the weather forecast called for days of 90-degree temperatures. So we kept trying to convince each other that the air was "getting cooler."
It wasn't. When the indoor temperature hit 89 degrees, we gave up.
I was shocked when my husband offered to do the weekly grocery shopping. But then I realized he just wanted to hang out in the frozen food section. We fought over who would get to go and eventually turned it into a family outing. We stayed until the sun set and returned home only when the air cooled to a nearly breathable 84 degrees.
That night, we distributed fans and tried to sleep through the oppressive heat. I was just nodding off when my youngest daughter climbed into my bed and burrowed herself into my side, thereby raising my body temperature an intolerable few degrees beyond too-hot-to-live level.
I instinctively pushed her away and then laughed, thinking of that incident so long ago when my mother rejected my summertime hug.
It took me 40 years to understand and forgive her, but now I do. I'm going to tell her and give her a great big hug just as soon as the weather cools.
Paula Gray Hunker, who works from home, is the mother of four children, the bemused wife of her amazing (but true) husband and a staff writer for the Family Times. She welcomes comments, suggestions and stories from her readers. She can be reached by mail at The Washington Times, 3600 New York Ave. NE, Washington, D.C. 20002; by phone at 202/636-4897; by fax at 610/351-1791; or by e-mail (hunkerc@erols.com).

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