I was something in the 60s but now I'm just sixty something.

Heat Wave

on July 18, 2013

The weather this summer has been misbehaving! Rain, floods, fires, rain, tornadoes, rain and then, after some more rain, straight into the annual heatwave. This year’s heat wave is a bad one. It just seems wrong when summer temperatures are higher in the northeast than they are in Florida. This can really confuse the snowbirds and affect their migration pattern. A FB friend of mine posted a picture of some neighbors having cocktails up in her summer lakeside community. In the bedroom. No, it wasn’t one of those kinds of parties. (Much too hot for anything like that.) It’s just the bedroom has an air conditioner and it’s been in the 90s.

Hot! Hot! Hot!

Hot! Hot! Hot!

I grew up in upstate New York in the 1950s and 60s. Not what you would think of as a warm climate but at least once every summer we would get a stretch of killer hot, muggy, weather. And we really weren’t equipped to handle it. My mother always complained about the humidity in Schenectady in the summer. As a point of reference, she moved there from Houston. We lived in a Levittown-esque, Cape Cod style home with an “expanded” second floor. Translation…my brother and I essentially slept in our separate halves of an attic. Big rooms with tiny windows. The only air movement we got upstairs was the heat rising from the first floor. We had one floor fan in the small hallway between our rooms. Since my brother was older and more manipulative  wiser than me, the fan was usually pointed toward his room. The theory was that the intake on the fan would pull the air from my room across to his room to create a breeze for us both. Bullshit. The fan blew on him. My side stayed a stagnant attic. All I got from the fan was the fun of talking through it when it was too hot to sleep.

Occasionally, when it got really oppressive, we were allowed to drag our bedding downstairs and make a pallet on the living room floor. This was like being released from the gates of hell. We had a screen on the front door and my parents would let us sleep with the door open. My parents had their own fan in their bedroom. As long as they kept their bedroom door opened for cross ventilation it kept them just cool enough to get hot with each other. At the time we didn’t realize why we weren’t allowed do that every night in the summer.

Turning on an oven or stove to cook in those little houses would bring the temperature in the house up at least another 5 degrees.(Probably 10 upstairs.) Consequently dinner was whatever didn’t need to be actually cooked. My mother would spoil us in the heat wave with a fun meal of huge bowls of vanilla ice cream loaded with fresh sliced peaches, plums, and nectarines. She first tried this light meal with cottage cheese but since as a child I equated cottage cheese to bleached out vomit she gave up and allowed my brother and me to have our fruit with ice cream. I’m convinced this was in part to ease her guilt for making us sleep upstairs and not buying one more frickin’ fan. Really, how much could it have cost?

At some point in the early 60s my parents bought a window unit air conditioner and put it in the tiny room in the back of the house where we all crammed in to watch TV. My mother went into that room in mid June and came out around Labor Day. From there she issued orders and ran the family. The room was meant to be a bedroom but my dad removed the door because it opened inward and hit the huddle of furniture surrounding the TV altar. This was counterproductive for air-conditioning so in the summer we tacked a sheet up over the door frame. I can still see my dad batting wildly at that sheet and moving it aside on his way to the kitchen to refresh those ice-cold martinis my parents used to keep cool. He was a master at cracking ice against the palm of his hand. Then, if I was lucky enough to be around, he’d grab the back of my neck with that icy, cold hand. I’d squeal with a mixture of annoyance and delight. After that first shock, it felt good on those hot, sticky, summer evenings.

How did you beat the heat?

19 responses to “Heat Wave

  1. Holly Jolles says:

    We had a swimming pool in our back yard! In fact if you fly over Buffalo, NY, you will see many swimming pools in the back yard. Many of them are above ground but none the less, Memorial day to Labor day, we were all keeping ourselves cool! I remember the summer dinners. Tuna macaroni salad on lettuce cups! Many trips to the drive up soft serve ice cream parlor- again only open the same season. We really looked forward to summer with the BBQ’s, colored popsicles and fireflies and hide and seek. Not like living in California or Florida where everyday is summer and we have such tightly sealed houses where you can only run the AC because you can’t open the window. Sleeping with an open window is heaven on earth! Haven’t seen that in a while. The only consolation for sleeping with a closed window is that I can’t hear the lawn mower going early on Saturday mornings when my dad used to mow the lawn! Now living in FLorida – how do you beat the cold with 12 foot ceilings and the vents in the ceiling?

    • sixtiestosixties says:

      I still make tuna-mac on lettuce cups. They don’t understand that here in California.

      Sent from my iPad

  2. Charlotte Phillips says:

    Philis: Being that I was raised a few houses away from you on Regent Street … I ¨survived¨ it in much the same way as you did … My sisters and my bedrooms were upstairs in an attic-like environment as you have just described. Parents bedroom was downstairs. Speaking of Levittown-esque cape cod homes … have you been there? I used to live near there both in Glen Cove and Port Washintgon, LI before I moved to Queens, NY before I moved into Manhattan, NY before I moved to Sacramento, CA !!! The summers in those bedrooms upstairs on those hot, humid days were almost unbearable to say the least … then we moved to Troy Road and my dad had a pool put in the backyard … H-E-A-V-E-N !!! But all the girls in our family had to do what my father called the “up-keep¨ on the pool, i.e. daily vacuuming, cleaning out the filter, distributing chemicals, pulling weeds from between the patio blocks, gardening around the fence of of the pool, cleaning and etc. of the little cabana changing room which housed my father´s keg of beer, yada, yada, yada …..) We grew weary of the upkeep, but I loved that pool as I had many many pool parties out there with A&W Rootbeer, hotdogs, dancing around the pool (to Ẅhere the Action is theme) to records on the stero (which was hooked up by an electrical outlet) which every time you walked up to it to change a record, you would get a pretty significant shock !!!! My younger sister, Mary Jean, looking down on my friends and myself from the upper bedroom window because she was not allowed to be out there with us !!) Fun Times !!!

    • Holly Jolles says:

      Charlotte, I relate to your comments about the pool. My husband wanted to put a pool in here and I said NO because of the memories of the contant “skimming”, daily bottom brushing down of the pool, and the chemical testing! It seemed as if we were our parents personal slaves back then because not only did we do the pool but we had to weed the garden, hand water the garden and do dishes and cleaning of the house! It was still a good life….

  3. Dick Cole says:

    Five brothers in one bedroom (designed by my mother with 6 corners — 3 girls had their own room) generated our own heat, and I don’t mean just ambient temperature. I beat the heat with 5 a.m. delivery of 100 Gazettes in the cool dawn before competition with 9 others for single shower before walk to Van Antwerp or high school from the corner of Balltown and Ray near Union Street. Pleasant hours in summer with transistor radio, but icy, dark winters a challenge. Stood me in good stead, by cracky; anything after that seemed easy. It occurs to me that we never spoke a word to each other in HS (inhabiting different social circles in stratified suburbia) and until Regent Street clue above I never had any idea where you lived (long street, so still don’t). Your “TV altar” is brilliant; not quite the “altar of freedom” from the letter by George Marshall quoting Lincoln in missive to grieving mother as presented in “Saving Private Ryan”, but still, well put to encapsulate the era.

    • sixtiestosixties says:

      Ah, but we did speak in high school but not too often. You were scary smart and left me in fear of sounding like an idiot. We were stratified by class tracking as much as socially. I knew where you house was though. I can’t imagine 5 brothers in one room but it wasn’t at all uncommon in those days to raise 6-8 kids in a three bedroom house.

      • Dick Cole says:

        You’re the smart one, Philis, what with publishing this funny, articulate blog and all! I was half asleep from early work (and Coop after school and Saturday) and/or rebellious in HS, absurdly kept out of Honors or AP classes — the autodidact with perfect standardized test scores and surprise National Merit Scholar, etc. With no older siblings as models, too shy and afraid to dare speak with budding lasses until hormones left no option. I knew of only one other family with 8 or more kids (Flahives, I think, and maybe a couple others), but actually very rare in our town.

  4. Dave Steven says:

    My Mom would on rare (and welcome) summer occasions have a sherbet dinner, which was cottage cheese, fresh fruit (hold the cantaloupe) and orange, raspberry and lime sherbet. It felt like dessert for dinner. So cool on many levels. Did our Mom’s read the same magazines?

  5. Cindi Hamilton DiMichele says:

    As soon as you mentioned your house (and I’d never heard of a Levittown cape!), with regard to heat, I pictured the fan upstairs! I loved this, but how could you talk about hot summers without mention of the Edison club?! Another blog?

    • sixtiestosixties says:

      I did not sleep at the pool. Would have if I could have. The pool just might show up in another blog post.

      Sent from my iPad

      • Charlotte Phillips says:

        Philis never did answer my ? about the Levittown cape … still curious ..

      • sixtiestosixties says:

        No, I have never been. Have read much about them and seen pictures.

        Sent from my iPad

  6. Sir Tom (the wiser) Miller says:

    and I thought Cindy et. al. used to come into my room to bs because I was so “cool” Now I find out it was because of the fan. I’m crushed. But remember, Flahive bought a camp. With a pool. And cool piney woods. That’s one way to beat the heat.

  7. Sharon Greer says:

    Excellent read, as always, Philis! Yes, in the good ole days we only had to worry about the extreme humid in August. We were lucky in that our family had asthma and allergies so we grew up with window air conditioners.

  8. sixtiestosixties says:

    I guess that was a silver lining to breathing problems.

  9. scotty71349 says:

    This post along with seeing temperatures in the mid to high 90s in Schenectady reminded me of the time when my mother sent my brother Todd and I to Craig School with no shirts! I was in Second grade, Todd in Kinder. The heat was brutal in late June, and I know there was no fans in the classrooms, let alone air conditioning.
    The first indication that something was wrong was when we got on the school bus, and the driver as well as many of our fellow students asked ” hey, where’s your shirt?”
    My teacher, Liz Adler asked if I had forgotten to put a shirt on, and just shook her head when I replied that no, my mother had decided to keep us cool by sending us out with out one.
    All that day, I felt embarrassed at being the only kid in class with no shirt. I can recall my bare skin sticking to the back of my desk chair after sweating profusely.
    So much for keeping cool Mom!
    She wanted us to do it again the next day, but I refused, telling her I’d rather stay home than do that again.

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