Perhaps this will be the last word on air-conditioning in this summer of '82. I hope so. Having the last word is nice but in this case it's only just that it should go to a member of a long-suffering and misunderstood minority: the anti-air-conditioners.
Long-suffering, not from the heat but from the cold blasts forced upon us at every turn. Dressed in our summer nothings, we are continually herded in and out of refrigerators and end up looking, appropriately enough, like old lettuce.
There's no escape, no adjusting. We're ready to accept the God-given elements, but the rest of the world blithely blasphemes by saying itdoesn't have to. Well, that's not what I was brought up to believe.
I grew up on the outskirts of Indianapolis, a summer oven every bit as stultifying as Washington, but, at that time, with none of its civic charms. There was "nothing to do," but to me, the days were overflowing.
With a dog, a bike and plenty of countryside, adventure awaited everywhere. Our house faced a golf course, where, much to the manager's consternation, we created a baseball diamond, ran foot races, picnicked.
We also had a large Victory Garden that fed us all summer. One year my father read that you should plant the green beans between rows of corn. I can't remember why -- mine was not to reason why, anyway -- but being the smallest, my task was to pick the beans. Inching my way along the rows of cornstalks I was constant prey not only to the insects harbored there but also to the needlepoint ends of corn leaves as they scraped across my back. The welts would appear later. I complained loudly, but I was still the bean-picker.
After this torture, I would reward myself with the biggest, ripest tomato in the garden. I ate them still hot from the sun and liberally sprinkled with salt. When I eat tomatoes now, I'm certain some mad horticulturalist has devoted his career to taking the flavor out of tomatoes.
Tomatoes, corn, green beans. They all appeared on the table nightly. The beans -- that painful crop -- had been cooking with hamhocks all afternoon until they were soupy. Then they were served with fresh green onions. I don't cook beans the way my mother did. I cook them only until slightly crisp and with a little fresh basil. Mine aren't as good as hers.
My sister and I didn't spend much money except for an occasional frozen Milky Way or Popsicle purchased at the golf course. There was nothing to spend it on. Once outfitted with halters and shorts, we were set for summer. Oh, and a Sunday dress. Mine was patterned with the sign of the flying red horse, a gift from our local service station for a year's purchase of gasoline. We usually went barefoot, but occasionally, after suffering some crippling gash on the foot, we would take to wearing tennis shoes.
But back to spending. Summertime entertainment was free. Since no one had air- conditioning, everyone's windows were open all summer. Families entertained each other with real-life dramas: "Real People" was broadcast out of every window in America. And the drama had everything: immediacy, spontaneity and no commercials.
As I think back, my sister and I actually paid no attention to the neighbors since we were not the entertained but the entertainers. I was studying ballet and she had a lovely voice, so our house provided a non- stop musical revue. Being five years older than I, and tall, blond, beautiful and a soprano, she got to be Jeanette MacDonald. I was short, slightly plump and of nondescript vocal range, so I was Nelson Eddy. That was all right -- my "Stout-Hearted Men" was a show-stopper.
Each night it took us about two hours to finish the dishes. We strung the operation out long enough to go through our entire repertoire of Victor Herbert, Sigmund Romberg, Cole Porter -- you name it.
Now -- and this was just the shank of the evening (especially for the neighbors, I can now imagine) -- it was 8:30 and we had finally hung up the last soggy towel. My sister would head for her favorite radio program and I would don my swimsuit and head for the golf course.
It was magic time, the time when fountains appeared from nowhere as 18 sprinklers suddenly exploded onto 18 golf greens. Catching the last of the sun's rays to make a thousand tiny rainbows and accompanied by a chorus of crickets (or were they locusts?) raising their voices in a deafening oratorio, the sprinklers provided a thrilling sound and light show.
It was irresistible. Starting with a pulsating promenade through the spray and then crescendoing with whatever music was in me, I would suddenly break from the watery proscenium and charge down the links in a series of Alicia Alonso-esque grand jetes toward the eighth hole. I would whirl in abandon until, exhausted, I'd drop. It was a shameless Bacchanalia, I now realize, and must have brought out more than one God- fearing neighbor onto the front porch to observe on those summer nights.
With memories like these, is it any wonder that I find air-conditioning more stifling than heat? Or that I actually feel sorry for my children when they spend a summer evening watching television, cloistered in air-conditioned TV rooms and bedrooms.
What triggered my reminiscing was an observation by my 14-year-old son: "You know you're an abnormal Mom, don't you?""