Keepin’ It Cool
Fans, porches and a visit to the ice plant
By Tom Bryant
Good night nurse, it was hot! Fry-an-egg-on-the-sidewalk kind of hot, and I was in the woods at a little farm pond trying to fish. The morning had started off pleasant enough. I was up and at ’em early, anticipating the scorcher promised by the Weather Channel, another of their disaster predictions, and I hoped to catch a mess of bream before the sun could cook my brain.
Fishing was slow, as I knew it would be, and I was going at it the lazy way. I cast a couple of lines baited with night crawlers, anchored the rods securely on the bank, and looked for some shade. The tree line was too far from the pond, so I pulled the old Bronco close to my set and kicked back on a camp chair in her shade. That made it right tolerable.
Growing up when air-conditioning meant an opened window and, if we were lucky, a strong window fan, I think people knew how to handle the scorching summer heat. As kids, we would head to Pinebluff Lake. It was fed by springs and a little creek, and I can still remember swimming into a cool spot created by one of the natural springs. We spent hours in the little lake, devising all kinds of games to play in the naturally cool water.
Probably one of the reasons I don’t like swimming pools today is that I feel like I’m cooped up in an oversized bathtub.
I was also fortunate that my dad ran the massive ice plant located next to the railroad tracks in Aberdeen, and if the summer temperatures got completely out of hand, I could always cool down in one of the storage rooms that were wall-to-wall with ice. Typically, I didn’t stay long. The average temperature in those rooms was about 28 degrees. It’s a pretty good shock to your system when it’s summer outside and, all of a sudden, you’re freezing.
We kids had a routine: Pinebluff Lake in the morning, home for lunch and a nap, and back to the lake in the late afternoon. It was not just a normal nap. Dad had installed a window fan in my sisters’ bedroom, the kind of fan that had four speeds and was reversible, and I knew exactly how to make that thing work. My little brother and I had the bedroom right across the hall from our sisters. We were upstairs so I could close the door at the bottom of the stairs, open our bedroom doors, put the fan blowing out, switch it to “high,” and stand back. That fan would have the curtains in my bedroom standing straight out from the window, and the cool breeze was constant. The sound of the fan and the cool air wafting through the room were almost hypnotic, and in no time I was in the midst of a great nap. I think that’s the reason I nap today and have a sound machine nearby.
I was jolted out of my reverie by the zinging of one of my rods as the line was being pulled in the lake. I raced to catch it and yanked to set the hook. Nothing. Whatever was on it was gone. I reeled in, rebaited the hook and went back to the Bronco. The sun had angled around the corner of the truck, so I rearranged the chair and kicked back again.
The lake, naps and ice plant weren’t the only ways we had to cool down. Most of the Aberdeen downtown businesses were just beginning to install air-conditioning, and the movie theater was one of the first. The mothers in Pinebluff alternated carpooling us kids to the theater on Saturday afternoons. It was 15 cents to get in, 5 cents for a drink and 10 cents for popcorn; and we really got our money’s worth when there was a double feature. The cowboys — Roy Rogers, Gene Autry, Lash LaRue and Rex Allen — reigned supreme in those early movies. Air-conditioning, a novelty at first but soon to become a necessity, made for a kid’s great afternoon of fun.
My ancestors in the 1800s weren’t so lucky. A South Carolina low country summer could be unbearable. Our old family home place was built to provide a little relief from the heat.
First, there’s a rain porch that stretches across the entire front of the house with columns to the ground. The roof’s overhang is far out from the edge of the porch so that during a storm, a person won’t get wet while relaxing in the swing. Next, a long entrance hall runs the length of the house to the back door that opens onto a screened sleeping porch. The house also faces east to catch the prevailing breezes, and the foundation pillars are about 4 feet tall and connected with latticed skirting, allowing air to flow beneath the house. Big rooms with 14-foot tall ceilings and 8-foot windows also helped.
All of these features were great in the summer, but winter was another story. Every room has a fireplace, and in those days, using them kept at least one person busy hauling wood. I guess those early relatives thought that frostbite was preferable to heat stroke.
I checked the lines on the fishing rods to make sure they still had bait, went to the back of the truck for a cool libation, moved my chair to the diminishing shade, and sat back down. The ride home was going to be a hot one because the Bronco doesn’t have air-conditioning.
That thought got me thinking about our first air-conditioned car, a 1969 Buick LeSabre. Prior to that, I thought air-conditioning a car was an expensive add-on that we could do without. Needless to say, after a couple of summer trips to Florida in our un-air-conditioned 1962 MGB, my bride, Linda, helped me to think otherwise. So, along came car air-conditioning.
The sun was now almost directly overhead, so I decided to give up the fishing expedition and try again in a few days when it got a little cooler. I felt a little like a wimp, though, as I loaded the gear in the back of the Bronco. Back in the day, I would have stuck it out till dark, and did that many times. It made me wonder if the reason we suffer so much from the heat is that, as a general population, we’ve become softer and more acclimated to modern conveniences.
That observation needs more study, I thought, something to think about when I take my afternoon nap. I hope Linda turned down the air-conditioning. I fired up the Bronco and headed home. PS
Tom Bryant, a Southern Pines resident, is a lifelong outdoorsman and PineStraw’s Sporting Life columnist.