Sunday, May 17, 2015

How did you keep cool in the summertime?

This week we are hitting the 90s and the humidity is going to be high for the first time this year. Summertime has arrived despite the fact that we technically have another month before the summer solstice, the official start of summer.

Growing up in Florida, keeping cool in the summer was not just desirable, it was a survival skill. Very few homes were air conditioned so we made do with fans of all descriptions, hydration and frozen delights.

When I was eight or so, my father, brother and I installed an attic fan in the hallway of our house. Unlike the horizontal mounted, louvered attic fans of later years, ours was a vertical mount, so we had to build a lean-to wooden housing for it. The angled section of the lean-to was mounted on hinges at the lower edge so we could lower it across the hole in the ceiling to keep the cold air out of the house in winter. Simple but efficient, that contraption did a pretty good job. It was a cool comfort sleeping beside the open window with the man made breeze flowing over us. In the hottest months, the attic fan was augmented with table and floor fans in the various rooms of the house. Inside the houses it was pretty noisy but outside the neighborhood was very quiet; no whirring of air conditioning fans and compressors. Good thing, because that meant you could hear the sound of the ice cream truck blocks away. More about that later…

Hydration meant drinking a lot of water, colas, fruit drinks and that southern staple, sweet tea. I can still remember one of my aunts asking us to “bring me some sweet tea, Sweetie.” Just in case you are thinking that the fruit juices were a healthy alternative to Cokes or Pepsis, let me set the record straight; those fruit drinks were mostly made up from artificial fruit flavors and contained, if possible, more sugar than the sweet tea did. One could get quite a sugar buzz off a couple of glasses of those drinks. That reminds me, the grape drink was often called “bug juice.” That name made its way into our vernacular via the Boy Scout leaders in our troop. I also heard it from my Uncle John who was a Master Chief in the Navy. This was great, now we could make some Grape Kool-Aid, call it Bug Juice and not have to share it with the girls, who would not dare to put their lips to anything that had the word “bug” in its name.

It was a rare treat indeed to have a Coca-Cola, Pepsi-Cola or a Royal Crown Cola in a frosty glass of ice or “neat” as in right out of the bottle. Drinking Coca-Colas out of a bottle was a conflict of interest; on one hand, you wanted the drink to last forever, on the other, you wanted to be able to turn the bottle over to see where it was made. No fair holding the glass bottle aloft to look at the bottom; that was cheating. It seemed that as often as not, the bottle was made in some place other than Jacksonville, so we had impromptu “bragging rights” contests to see whose bottle came from the farthest away. To be sure, there were other bottled drinks than Cokes and Pepsis; Seven Up, Ginger Ale, Fantas (Orange and Grape) to mention just a few. Oh and don’t forget those chocolate “Yoo-Hoos.” After all if Yogi Berra and the New York Yankees liked it, it had to be good.

Another form of hydration came from playing in the blow up pool in the back yard or the sprinkler in the front yard. Time in the blow up pool was very limited because by about the time we got to be 10 or so, we had outgrown that pool. But I remember filling up the pool, playing in it then emptying it to water the yard and keep from providing mosquitoes a place to lay eggs. Besides it was no fun swimming in warm water, it was too much like taking a bath. Playing in the sprinkler always happened in the front yard, it needed watering too. Also front yard sprinkler playing became a neighborhood event, the other kids would join us or we would join them in their front yard. The only down side to that was having to cross the hot pavement in the street in our bare feet. But that toughened our soles in preparation for walking across the hot sands of the beach. The beach had two zones; the hot zone of loose, dry sand nearest the dunes and then the cool zone of sand nearest the water. The cool sands were underwater during high tide and provided a great place to walk or play at low tide. Also, it was much easier to drive on the wet sand than the dry, you never got stuck in wet sand.

I mentioned the sound of the ice cream truck a while ago. Sometime mid afternoon you would hear it coming into the neighborhood. In the early days of my youth, it was the sound of a constantly ringing bell, later it was amplified circus sounding music. That sound was loud enough for us to pester Mom for her spare change and line up on the side of the road with all the other kids in the neighborhood ready to purchase the frozen delights that the truck driver lugged around in the back of that white step van. We would all crowd the passenger side sliding door and that driver made good time taking orders, collecting our money and passing out our frozen treats for the afternoon. I remember the juice from those grape, orange, cherry, strawberry and lemon popsicles trickling from the corners of our mouths as we wolfed those delights down before the summer heat melted them. Later on, came the fudge-sicles and ice cream sandwiches. I had died and gone to heaven.

The neighborhood where I live today is an older one and there are not too many children living here. So it is not profitable for the ice cream truck vendors to come by often. Once or twice a summer, one ventures down my street. But alas, by time I hear him over the sound of the air conditioners through my closed windows, it is too late for me to grab my spare change and stand expectantly at the edge of the street. I sort of feel sorry for the kids that do live here, they won’t have the chance to take a break from playing in the sprinkler in the front yard to score a popsicle or fudgecicle. Oh MY!

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