The Finish Line Came Easy

For this week’s column, I planned to write about how tough and brave I was to make it all the way to Memorial Day without turning on the air-conditioning in my house.

It’s been a personal goal for as long as I can remember. As a child, it wasn’t an issue. Even though I grew up in the south, my family didn’t have an air-conditioned house until I was a teenager. Nor did we have an air-conditioned car until my daddy bought a used 1959 Ford Edsel with a clunky unit hanging under the radio. Even from the back seat, my brother and I could feel that monster spit cold water on us as we travelled merrily down the road. It was glorious.

My college dorm didn’t have air-conditioning. My first few apartments didn’t, either. But even after air-conditioning became common in my life, there remained something in me that railed against being so soft that I could simply flip a switch and be instantly comfortable.

In my mind, windows should be the only way to adjust the temperature inside a house in spring and fall. Which wasn’t always easy.  In the quarter-century I lived in an 1840s farmhouse, opening and closing windows was both a challenge and a commitment. Some of the windows had huge, heavy storm windows that had to be removed and replaced with huge, heavy screens. Others had “modern” storm windows that could be raised and lowered by pushing two levers toward each other while sliding the glass up or down. They rarely functioned as designed.

We kept a supply of stuff—Tinker Toys and unsharpened pencils and Popsicle sticks come immediately to mind—to hold up the storm glass so that at least some of the screen would be exposed. Then we had to find something even sturdier to prop the actual windows open, because most of them came crashing down, sometimes on wrists or fingers, as soon as they were raised. This something was most often a tennis ball can, but we occasionally made do with toy wooden blocks and Barbie dolls.

When the windows were finally opened, they stayed open. And when they were closed, they stayed closed. No amount of complaining could change that.

My life is different now. I live in a newer house, one with double-paned windows I can raise and lower with two fingers and screens that are always in place. Nobody but me is here to whine that the house is too hot or too cold.  I’m totally in charge of the thermostat. On several chilly spring nights, I was tempted to flip the heat on. But I didn’t. I closed the windows, put on flannel pajamas and tossed an extra blanket on the bed. When temperatures climbed into the eighties in the middle of May, I opened the windows wide, turned the fans on high and drank a lot of iced tea.

But heading into the home stretch, things began to look dicey. As blackberry blossoms became hard green knots, the weather grew hot. Really hot. Yard work that needed doing and a dog that needed walking added to the misery. What would it hurt to turn on my air conditioning a few days early? Breaking my Memorial Day rule wasn’t such a big deal, was it?

Linen britches winter arrived just in the nick of time. As I began writing this column, it was the Saturday before Memorial Day. It was 43 degrees when I awoke that morning, shivering. Four days later, as I prepare to e-mail the column to my editors, a soaking rain is falling. My windows are cracked only an inch and I’m wearing jeans and a long-sleeved shirt.

So I made it across the finish line this year almost without breaking a sweat. Perhaps I’m not so tough or brave after all.

(June 5, 2021)