By Laura Lowe
In the past, how did country folks survive the long hot days of summer without central air conditioning? One of the things that helped my family tremendously was not having ever been exposed to air conditioning except in some department stores in the nearby town. Another help was being surrounded by trees. Trees are nature’s air conditioners. Even now I don’t particularly like a super cool house and will sometimes turn the unit off and open windows.
Looking back on that time I spent growing up in south central Alabama, I can still recall summers with warm — very warm — memories. Our farm house had a huge front porch covered as the whole house was with a tin roof. Rain falling on tin roofs is often a racket, but a soothing racket. One fond memory I can dredge up is of me stretched out near the porch swing on the floor gazing at the sky full of high flying cumulus clouds off to the north. My active imagination gave each one an animal title. Momma and I had done the weekly wash and there were sheets flapping on the line. I knew that the sheets would smell of sunshine later on the beds. Even now so many years later I can hear the sound of the dirt dauber building a nest in the top of the porch ceiling. Maybe I will knock it down later or maybe not. A black bug was flying slowly around the porch. Momma said that sometimes that was a sign someone was going to die. That was an old superstition, I thought, but what if Momma was right?
Another memory associated with those sheets drying in the sunshine feature my momma’s penchant for cleaning. The woman truly seemed tireless. In those days many houses in the country did not have insulation in the walls. Momma would heat a huge black cast iron pot of water outside and have the menfolk — Daddy and our cousin M.C. — bring the hot water inside and she would scald down the walls. On this Saturday she had cleared out my room and scalded the walls and the floor early so we could move all the furniture back in before night.
My room smelled of the soap Momma had used to scrub the walls. My bed had been made with the sun-dried sheets. One of the things Momma did that I also did for years was iron the sheets before making the bed. That evening I had my bedside lamp on when Daddy came in to sit and talk with me for a while. He had the newspaper with him and he began reading because I was reading my novel. I must have fallen asleep for a few minutes. When I woke up Daddy was still reading the paper and I heard the sounds of night insects hitting the window screens trying to get in the house. This was an encapsulated happy moment in time that still resonates with me. Every little girl, every child should be able to remember such moments.
I have not hung clothes on an outdoor clothes line in many years, but somehow I do believe that sheets dried in the sunshine magically bring sunshine into our air conditioned homes and into our lives.
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