After more than 60 years of marriage, and after more than 50 years of living in houses we owned, last Thursday we had central air conditioning installed. Today, as I touch-in this column, I realize that our lives have changed.
About two weeks ago when suffering in temperatures hovering in the low- to mid-90s, my bride insisted, saying she and I were simply too old to suffer any more. The time had come. I have taken my cues from this woman for a long time and she has never sent me down the wrong path, so yes, I did it. I called a local furnace and air conditioning specialist and lo and behold, it happened. Today as I sit before my computer down here in my office peering out at the big lake, I am just a bit too chilly.
We used to have a Red Cliff aunt who claimed she despised air conditioning. She had worked for years in Duluth as a telephone operator, was nobody’s fool, and when she made up her mind it was made up. She claimed she had to put up with air conditioning in that telephone office building insisting it used to give her a sore throat, the sniffles, and whatnot. Well, this morning as I write this column down here in my office, glancing at the lake, I think of Aunt Jane and her struggle with Ma Bell, with modernization. I wonder how it will go with us, with my wife and I, now that our lives have changed. After yesterday we never should have to suffer from too much summer heat – at least in our house. But I wonder about the sniffles. I wonder about sore throats. I wonder about Aunt Jane.
We’ll see how it goes. A Red Cliff brother-in-law and his wife had central air installed about a year or two ago. He is a retired heavy equipment operator and she still is employed in school administration and they both claim to love A/C. Those two are wise people and I respect their decisions, so I will wait and see. I’ll wait and see how it turns out at our house now that things have changed.
Of course, having something as monumental as central air installed causes me to reflect back on my life. This is the first house I have ever lived in that has central air, and there have been a lot of houses. Off and on over time we lived with one of those small window air conditioners, but they never cooled the entire house. And they were a bit of a nuisance with my struggles to install them in early summer and take them down in fall. They worked, and yes, they helped out, but there still was all that putzin around.
We had threatened to install central air before. Each time we complained we knew the oppressive heat and humidity would soon pass. After all, at least these past 20 years, we live beside the largest body of fresh, cold water in the world. Lake Superior. Any heat wave never lasts long – maybe a day or two – but soon it would leave. Air conditioning was not really needed. We just had to tough it out and soon it would be gone. And this time, in the summer of 2021….that is what would happen: after struggling with a night or two of uncomfortable heat it would go away and we would forget about air conditioning. It went that way for years.
Well, it’s all modern now. Now we hear about climate change and we see the films of fires. Those young weather people in Duluth with their evening television news shows and weather maps – they are so bright, those youngsters – and their maps are so red. Thank goodness we don’t live out West.
I recall the summers of my youth – the 1950s, those times of making hay. It would usually be hot then too, but we toughed it out. And of course, even earlier, back to the 1940s, when younger, there was my helping out during our annual threshing bees. I remember shocking oats out in those farm fields, times when sweating was good. It was the manly thing back then. Each evening when the work was done came the shower. That shower made it all good again. Back in those times it was good to sweat, good to work. It was what we did.
That warship I was on in the 1950s would get unbearably hot, too. There were nights when I grabbed my blanket and pillow and clambered up on the 0-1 level, out in the open night’s ocean air to sleep on the deck up there, right by our torpedo installation. It was what we did; it was just how it was done.
But it is a different time now. We can have central air installed. Besides, now we are “old people,” as she said. That woman does not have to put up with it anymore.
Howard Paap is a writer and former poet laureate of Bayfield, where he lives with his wife and dogs.