I was seven years old the first time my family had central air in our house.
One week that summer turned into one of those sweltering Illinois days, when the air is so thick it feels like you’re breathing through a damp rag. Every lungful of air is hot and damp, more like swallowing than breathing. It’s the kind of weather in which you sweat in any spot your skin is touched, whether by fabric or watch bands or other skin.
Air conditioning was a new experience. I could belly flop to the carpet in front of a vent, bare legs and feet scissoring the air as I watched an afternoon marathon of PBS cartoons. The unexpected side effect of the cold air downstairs was the hot air rising upstairs — our bedrooms remained hot and sticky.
Because our bedrooms were uncomfortable, Mom let my sisters and I sleep downstairs. We made a living room campsite of blankets and pillows. It was an adventure.
Future summers didn’t have hot streaks quite as intense as that summer, and though I often hoped for a repeat of the downstairs sleepover, our bedrooms were kept cool enough with fans and nighttime breezes.
This weekend, as temperatures hit mid-90s in north-central Illinois, the husband and I decided to turn on our window unit air conditioner. It lasted about 10 minutes before it conked out, leaving the ceiling fans to push hot air from one end of the house to the other.
The husband’s parents extended some relief by loaning us a smaller window unit to cool our rec room. The bright side was we had a comfortable place to relax and work during the day. The down side was our bedroom was still an oven.
So we took a page from childhood and folded down the futon, put an air mattress on it and slept in the rec room with cold air blowing across our feet.
It was a perfect blend of reliving a childhood joy while also doing something non-routine.