Everyone seemed to be in panic mode except the senior member of our family. That would be, my mother-in-law “The Lady Hazel.” She knows that comfort is a relative term. After all, she can probably remember the first time she saw an electric fan. All she said when we told her that the air conditioning system in the old farmhouse had gone on the blink was, “Oh.”
One normally wouldn’t expect a central air conditioning system in a nearly hundred-year old farmhouse. I have a nephew, however, who is some sort of genius in the HVAC business and is rapidly becoming a self-made magnate in the field. Several years ago, I swapped him some land I had no use for in return for installing a system in the farmhouse and he did a marvelous job of combining the old and the new.
So, when the system froze up yesterday on a blistering Arkansas summer afternoon, we made a quick call. George assured us that an injection of Freon would solve the problem. What a clever boy.
That still left us facing a period of discomfort. Fortunately, 43 years of hoarding has resulted in any number of electric fans that we began to assemble. And when we all gathered for our afternoon pasture gazing, comfort was high on the list of topics.
It was sobering to think that, of the 96 years or so that the old house had existed, only ten or so had been with modern air conditioning. How did they stand it?
Hazel sipped her “medicinal” red wine. “There was more air back then,” she said. Then she explained. “All the windows were open and air circulated. I don’t remember being uncomfortable.”
That didn’t sound too reassuring to me but this is a woman who, in her youth, chopped cotton all day and was married for 50 years to a man who had spent the winter of 1944-45 in the Ardennes Forest with nothing but a GI overcoat and a woolen blanket. They were members of a different generation.
We did once build with some thought of accommodating nature, however. Houses, even cities were built to take advantage of prevailing winds and avoid some of the greatest dangers of the climate. These days, we often have other priorities that guide construction, so we build in defiance of physical conditions and then panic when things don’t work the way they are supposed to.
Maybe we are getting soft. I could hear the ghosts of “The Old Ones,” who join us for our evening relaxation, laugh as we complained about a little inconvenience. They often find us amusing.
I’ll tell you one thing though. We watched that air conditioning unit carefully. When the sun went down and we turned it on ever so slightly—just to move the air a bit—it sure felt good.