What Air-Conditioning Took From Us

By Marty Damon

My grandfather’s big white-washed brick house in Oklahoma was where I spent much of the summer during my pre-air conditioning childhood. My family drove across country from our home in Virginia, the hot summer wind whipping through the car. When our car finally pulled into the hotly shimmering slate-covered drive, my grandparents would come smiling out of the kitchen door to greet us.

If the day’s heat had set in, we would visit in the living room, the French doors to the porch closed against summer’s bake. This was a house built when you had to gather up the rare cool breeze of an Oklahoma July any way you could. In the dining room there were also double doors, and on cooler days they might be opened during dinner as we drank our iced tea with the mint I’d gathered from the garden.

The double porch ran across the back of the house, enveloping both the living room and my grandfather’s study. One floor up, it ran outside my grandparents’ bedroom and the next door guest room where my sister and I slept when we all came for a visit. There was no screen on the window and I was fascinated by the fact that I could climb through it onto the porch.

The second floor porch held only two plastic-wrapped beds, folded in half and rolled up against the wall. This was not a place for socializing, like the one below with its green and white metal chairs and swing. This was a sleeping porch, for nights so hot you had to sleep with arms and legs akimbo, as though you were making snow angels on your sticky sheets.

One evening, when it was especially hot, I climbed through the window, leaving my more dignified older sister behind in the guest room. Grampy then opened up a bed for me and pushed its head against the house and its foot closest to the screening of the porch.

He tucked me in with a kiss and reminders about sleeping tight and bedbugs, and wrapped plastic over the sheet at the bottom half of the bed. I lay there, awake now not from the heat, but the sensations around me. Adult voices drifted up from the porch below, the cicadas called to one another, and June bugs as big as peach pits thunked harmlessly against the screen. I could smell a new dampness in the weak evening breeze – a storm was coming.

First came the heat lightning high in the sky as the blackness beyond the screen was filled with flashes and distant thunder. The wind picked up and soon the rain was there in earnest, throwing itself against the house in bursts. It cut through the screen, but I was dry, my top half positioned against the house, my legs enveloped in my plastic cocoon. I lay there, safe and sheltered, and storing a memory that I would keep forever.

"flashmemoirmartydamon"Marty Damon is amazed and delighted that after twenty years of standing at the front of an English classroom, she still has something to say. She lives in Wilbraham, Massachusetts, where she is happily retired and working on her third mystery. Her first book, EARTHLY NEEDS, is available at Amazon.


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