The Age of AC ©Averyell A. KesslerDuring my childhood in leafy green Belhaven, I experienced three out of four manageable seasons. Fall remained in full boil until November, but the sun rose at a softer angle and leaves were beginning to turn. I had hope. Winter brought long, dark nights, a slight blast of cold air and the faint possibility of frost and snow. Spring was rainy, full of flowers, and schools-out anticipation. But summer was a ring-tailed tooter. I recall steamy days when I roamed barefoot, in sleeveless shirts, short shorts or a damp bathing suit. Also, the delight of running through the sprinkler on a parched afternoon when the heat was especially brutal.Inside, we had a frightening monster of an oscillating fan which buzzed like 1000 bees and blew out tornado force wind. Also, the ultimate weapon, an attic fan. Didn’t do much good during the day, but at bedtime, it was a gentle friend drawing in cool evening air as it rumbled me to sleep.Pre-AC folks recall many things about life in the sweaty south, fluttering stick fans, sweat dribbling behind our ears, searching the fridge for a pitcher of Kool-Aid, and the icy delight of a grape popsicle. It also meant diving into Riverside pool or splashing in my own blow up version in the backyard. However, school loomed at the end of summer and we all knew that August’s unrelenting heat continued far too long. Power School’s first weeks were oven days each lasting 27 hours with sticky air, steamy cafeteria lunches, and the captivity of shoes. Outside, the playground was a Sahara Desert, and nobody wanted to run anywhere for any reason. Adding insult to injury, sips from the water fountain were tepid and unsatisfying. In my eighth year everything changed.“We’re getting an air conditioner,” Mama announced“What’s that?” I asked.“Woodie talks about them on TV,” she answered. “We’ll have cool air, like Sears.”Woodie Assaf, a early star of Jackson’s fledgling TV stations, was a trusted source of information and reliable pitch man for air conditioners. We watched carefully as he explained velocity, capacity and BTU’s – not terms I understood. But he could sell ice cubes to Eskimos and in this case, frigid air to perspiring Jacksonians. By the end of the day, a shining Fedders AC was hanging out of a window in our den and blasting out refrigerator cold air. Its inability to cool the entire house was a drawback, so we closeted ourselves in a chilly island of comfort along with a Stromberg Carlson black and white and a plaid sofa. Woe unto the poor soul who left a door open and allowed cool air to escape into the rest of the house. A year later, my parents expanded our comfort zone by adding a second air conditioner in our living room. Both units shimmied like hula dancers, leaked steadily, and rattled like empty dump trucks, but who cares. What’s an occasional frosty drip when it’s 99 in the shade?Air conditioning is essential now. It keeps everybody sane when simmering heat covers us like a wool blanket and humidity soars. But I still remember those soft summer nights when my bedroom windows were wide open. Our attic fan pulled in a breeze as its comforting hum blended into the steady rhythm of throbbing crickets. Sometimes, a dog barked in the distance or a possum scurried across the rooftop. Sometimes, I heard the quiet moan of a freight train passing through town. On rainy nights, the attic fan sucked in dusty aroma of earth and grass and coated my window screen with a spider web of raindrops. Our attic fan was a reliable companion, beating back the heat, if only for a few restful hours. It gave us a chance to regain our breath, and made nighttime a sanctuary of peace. I was safe and secure under a ceiling of glittering stars. The next day it would begin again, but I was accustomed to it. We all were. Didn’t matter what the groundhog predicted, or the weatherman said, pavement cracking temperatures arrived as soon as the sun rose. It may not be possible to fry an egg on the sidewalk, but the hood of a car is a possibility. Ouch!It’s just as hot now as always and July is plodding along like a sweaty mule in a treeless pasture. I’m certain August will be its usual pressure cooker self, barging its way into September until the first whiff of a fall breeze sweeps in. Until then, most of us will live in AC splendor. But in an emergency this pre-AC veteran would welcome our creaky old Fedders if necessary. Too bad Woodie’s not here to tell me about it.

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