Kent Bernhardt: Let’s hear it for air conditioning

Published 12:00 am Sunday, May 21, 2017

It’s a difficult state of existence to explain to today’s youth, but many of us remember a time in the distant past when mankind stumbled through life without a simple staple we take for granted today:

Air conditioning.

It was non-existent in our homes, the neighborhood grocery store, and our cars. Even in our churches, we spent summer Sundays praying for a cool breeze and fanning ourselves with church bulletins and cardboard fans with funeral home advertising printed on them.

I remember wondering if it wasn’t the eighth deadly sin. Occasionally, someone in the church hierarchy would propose air conditioning in the sanctuary, only to have the idea blown out of the sky by another council member who thought of AC as “frivolous and perhaps even sinful.”

I remember falling asleep on warm summer evenings and awakening with my jugular notch filled with a pool of sweat.

By the way, the jugular notch is that small indention at the bottom of your neck just below your Adam’s apple. I Googled it. Some people call it the “goozle.” You have my blessing to do the same.

Through the early part of the 1960’s, my hometown lived in ignorant, sweaty bliss. We didn’t miss what we had never really known, or at least had experienced so infrequently that it failed to make an impression.

But one fateful day, my Aunt Anna arrived at a family function in a shiny new 1963 Rambler. It was white as the driven snow, somewhat sporty, and most importantly it had that eighth deadly sin installed and working.

Suddenly, I wanted to travel everywhere with Aunt Anna. She had the “cool car,” in more ways than one. I had dipped my toe in the refreshing stream of air conditioning and I wanted the waters to flow all over me.

By the mid 60s, strange metallic boxes began showing up in the bedroom windows of homes all over my neighborhood. I suddenly saw my neighbors outside less on warm summer days. Windows that had occasionally been left open to create a draft were suddenly tightly closed, lest that seductive cool air escape.

My family’s home was slow to fall under its spell. It didn’t happen until sometime in the mid 70s as I recall. “Our power bill would go through the roof!,” I can still hear dad saying. “Besides, we have an attic fan, and we’ll pull the cool air from the basement.”

Dad held out until around the time he owned his third air-conditioned car. There was no turning back after that.

I was long since under its spell. In my twenties, I once desired to ask out a beautiful young girl until she mentioned in casual conversation one day that she despised air conditioning. “I’ll never have it in my home or car,” she vowed.

I pictured myself dissolving into a sweaty puddle each day from June through August, and my goozle filled with sweat each night. I saw no future in our union and retreated from my romantic plan.

These days, we take air conditioning for granted — until it doesn’t work. I’m always grateful when I arrive home from my office on a warm summer day, and my central air has been performing its task efficiently.

Yet, there is a part of me that yearns for that simpler time, the period of my life before I was seduced by those cool dry breezes that remove the sting of summer.

I wonder sometimes if I could go back, if I could actually learn to relish the natural feel of the season.

Not on your life.

Kent Bernhardt lives in Salisbury.

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