For the entire summer (actually since May 27), until yesterday, the central air in my house was deader than a doornail. As the temperatures soared into the 90s with humidity in the 75%-90% range, I made do by running the three overhead fans continuously day and night, and with window fans in the living room and bedroom. And then there’s the three-foot-in-diameter fan, which on its lowest speed is loud and very aggressive, and which I suspect on highest speed (5), would blow out the windows in any room where it resides. Cool cloths, cool showers, ice packs and sitting in front of the fan worked well during all but the hottest days. On those days, my muscles rebelled and I could scarcely get up and about. (Myasthenia gravis doesn’t like extremes of hot and cold; neither do I.)
When my home warranty provider denied my claim to repair or replace the unit, which dates from the 70s, I accepted the fact that I’d have to pony up the $3000 to replace the system, but I had to wait until the middle of July to scare up the dough. With a small loan from the bank and the extreme generosity of my brothers, I was able to have a new system installed yesterday. I sat back and reveled in the cool, quiet house. The fans were extremely loud, and for a person who resents even the noise the refrigerator makes when it kicks in, the silence was especially golden. I realize that this is, no doubt, a first world problem, and that I am spoiled by modern conveniences.
Now, I distinctly recall that growing up, we had no central air. In the first house I remember, on the Connecticut shore of Long Island Sound, a whole house fan in the attic drew the heat up and out, making it quite comfortable most of the time. Our large family’s next home was an old, brick “mansion” in the Midwest, where temperatures and humidity were often the same numbers. Built in 1900 or so, it featured a 1000 square ft. ballroom and servants’ quarters on the third floor. (I can only imagine how incredibly uncomfortable the servants must have been in the heat.) “It’s not the heat, it’s the humidity,” dominated talk about the weather. We had window air conditioners in some of the rooms, powerful window fans in the others, and for the most part, we were comfortable. The
dungeon basement, always cool, provided respite in case the heat became too much.
We first encountered central air in the ranch house that followed the big old house. My mother, in the full bloom of menopause, preferred to keep it cool, really cool. “If you’re too cold, put on a sweatah (Manhattanese for sweater).” We were completely spoiled by central air, and I vowed never to live without it again. Life, however, interfered. My college dorm room was on the first floor, and while warm, it was never as hot as the upper floors, and besides, I had an ancient window fan donated by my next older brother, who no longer needed it. A series of apartments and tiny houses came without air conditioning and we survived. By the time we bought our first house, central air was a deal-breaker. With one child and another on the way, I could not contemplate being pregnant during the muggy summer months, when my little darling was due. (He was born in August, and it was hot hot hot.)
After a divorce, my kids and I moved into a lovely old, brick, prairie-style home with incredible woodwork and cavernous rooms, albeit in a sorry state of disrepair. No air conditioning, but I had my trusty, ancient box fan in the metal case. (Homes with AC were beyond my meager budget.) Over the first Labor Day weekend there, ripping out horribly odoriferous wall-to-wall shag carpet that covered beautiful oak floors, I thought I’d melt, even with the fan aimed directly at me. Some nights, we slept on the living room floor in front of that fan. The basement playroom and studio provided cool relief in summer and surprising warmth in winter. After three years and another husband, we installed a huge window unit on the first floor, and another smaller unit on the second floor, with the fan to push the air around. Once again, we enjoyed comfort.
Another divorce, another home, this one in which I now live. Once again, central air was a deal-breaker. I suppose I’m very lucky that the vintage system, c. mid-1970s, functioned well for as long as it did. I just wish it had held out for another year, as it died just as my beloved kitty, Story, had to have surgery to remove an obstruction in his intestine, my Macbook Pro (my livelihood) fried and had to be replaced, and expenses for a trip to Washington, D.C., for work all came at the same time as the necessity of purchasing my elder son’s ticket home from Thailand, where he has lived for nearly a year. In addition, the rear brakes on my car were down to 3% and the front to 15%. (Brake jobs on a vintage Saab are not cheap, but that’s just another Saab story….) And so, in a word, I’m broke in the first world sense.
On the up side, the universe (and my family) has taken pretty good care of me. I have a home (with AC!), enough to eat, two great kids, two delightful cats, wonderful family and friends, I’m sort of reasonably healthy, albeit a bit broken here and there, and work that is also my play. For all of this, I am ever grateful. Life is good.