I may not have made this clear, but even though I currently live in Washington DC (and do indeed call the District of Columbia my home), I was born and raised in Kansas City — Kansas City, Missouri, NOT Kansas City, Kansas. The big city not the little one. The one where the numbered streets run east and west, not north and south (that’s Kansas City, KS). And as we sit here in DC today, awaiting a day of 103 degree heat, I find myself thinking about heat waves long ago in the place of my Midwestern origins.
I will out myself — I am old enough to remember living when we did not all have central air conditioning. In fact, at our house, we only had one air window unit, and that was in the kitchen and living room part of the house.
I remember, on days like today (and there were many of them in the plains of the Midwest) that we would rise early, and cook and clean and do whatever jobs needed to be done. Then, about 10 am, the work of building our fortress of cool would begin: the drapes would be closed (those heavy ones, with the plastic liners against the weather), folding screens and blanket hangings would go up on the doors leading from the kitchen into the formal living room and the door leading from the recreation room into the hallway; books and games would be gathered and brought to the family room, and then, the magic box in the kitchen would be turned on.
Is it any wonder that to this day a heat wave leaves me feeling trapped? I was talking about it last night with someone — I actually feel more trapped than I did during the blizzards. At least then there was shovelling to do…
When I was about 11 years old, everything changed — my doctor insisted that, because of my allergies, I needed a window-unit in my bedroom so that I could sleep with clean air. Finally there was escape — freedom comes to us by the strangest means, sometimes. And, when I was around 14, my parents finally installed central air-conditioning because of my father’s heart condition. And that was the end of the fortress of cool (or, did I just grow up?)
Maybe, maybe not. Old habits die hard. And not all old habits are bad ones…since the truth is that even in my well-cooled home, much of what my mother taught me serves to limit the bite of the environmental apple that I will take today. Yes, I got up early and made whatever use of the stove I needed to make to put some nutritious and easy-access food in the refrigerator. As we speak, I’m doing the one load of laundry that I desperately need to do today so that it is completely while the electrical load is lighter. Yesterday, I pulled out the fans and put them in the rooms aren’t quite as cool as the rest of the house, so that we can set the thermostat just-that-little-bit-higher. And you bet that all the blinds are closed and the curtains are drawn.
It may not be the heat of 1936 my mother used to describe in great detail, but the next couple of days will be a special kind of weather event. But if I get too frustrated, I’ll just go back in my mind to long summer days spent in my parent’s family room, re-reading Laura Ingalls Wilder’s The Long Winter, trying to stay quiet and cool.