“So wrong!” was the battle cry of our three children. That’s how they complained we lived in a home without air conditioning.
“It’s not a mortal sin to have a/c!” our oldest child proclaimed. Why can’t we at least have window units?”
“Because,” I proclaimed, “window units are ugly. Window units are a sin against a home’s curb appeal. Plus, they’re a pain to put in, take out, store. Plus we’d need at least 11 units for 11 rooms.”
In August 1992, we’d bought our home. It had been built in 1910, a lovely two-story gray frame, farmhouse style, with gables, a wide front porch, and 51 windows.
We didn’t live in the sweltering tropics. We lived in a nice Chicago suburb with excellent public schools, beautiful old houses respectfully updated, many trees, and law-abiding residents.
So maybe 30 days each year were hot. Hellish hot. Heart-stoppingly hot. Humid, health-hazardous-per-the-hyper-TV-weather-humans hot.
My husband and I did not think it prudent to spend over 10 grand for central a/c. Not when we had three children to eventually navigate debt-free through college.
Not when cooling breezes could be captured by our 51 windows (which my husband grumbled/boasted about cleaning).
Not when we had a shady front porch from where we could pretend not to see neighbors we didn’t like and wave-chitchat with those we did.
Not when the brutal summer sun was blocked by a dozen of our neighbors’ leafy trees pressing (too) close to our lot line and shedding tree debris into our gutters (which my husband grumbled/boasted about cleaning.)
And finally, we were not going to spend a fortune on a/c because we had wisely, and with laudable foresight, installed a whole house fan in our 2nd floor hallway ceiling, venting it out through the attic, so that on sauna-hot days and nights, we could close all but the windows of the rooms we were in, flip the fan switch, and be somewhat cooled by the rush of air the noisy beast dragged over our soggy, sweating skin. Adding several box fans helped
Our whole house fan worked loudly but with unforeseen consequences. Our neighbor to the north often burned wood in his humongous outdoor fireplace (20 feet from his house, 10 feet from ours). Our neighbor to the south chain-smoked eight times a day, outside, by her back door, which was 10 feet from our family room windows. (Her husband forbade smoking in the house. They did eventually divorce.)
Our whole house fan not only brought in bountiful (albeit hottish) breezes, it also brought in our neighbors’ toxic wood and cigarette smoke. Do we breathe smokestack air, or do we sweat?
We chose to shut the windows and turn off the whole house fan whenever our north neighbor burned wood (almost every night) or our south neighbor smoked (eight times a day about 20 minutes per session, last session at 10 pm).
So, our kids had to cool off the old-fashioned way: cocoon with video games in our always cooler basement, take cold showers, or retreat to air-conditioned summer jobs and air-conditioned friends’ homes.
“You can’t run away from summer,” we’d preach to our three sweaty, red-faced kids.
For 26 years, we religiously sweated and suffered through the heat occasionally smacking our Chicago suburb.
Without a/c, our electric bills were uber-low. We became tolerant of (most) heat—acclimatized like mountain climbers who spend days at lower levels until their bodies can handle the summit’s low oxygen. We had to wear sweaters on hot days when we ventured into stores, restaurants, movie theaters, Sunday church. And we’d brag/complain about how coooold we were!
For 26 years, we were piously green, our carbon footprint smaller than our air-conditioned neighbors. We were warriors, not running away from summer.
Then we became empty nesters. Our house now too big. The property taxes too high.
We put our hot house on the market.
We had to lower our asking price before we landed a buyer willing to overlook the house’s lack of a/c. At the closing, the new owners shared that they weren’t moving in until they’d installed central air (for 15 grand).
We moved to a tidy, knee-friendly ranch rental in a tidy, leafy suburb.
This ranch has central a/c.
Now . . .
Sleeping cozy under covers even when it feels like 100 degrees outside?
Binge-watching Netflix without three box fans blowing on us?
Entering our house from the sweltering outdoors and collapsing in soothing coolness?
Roasting and baking anything we want in the oven even when it feels like 101 degrees outside?
We have converted to the one true faith, and her name is A/C.
Marie Anderson is a Chicago area married mother of three millennials. After escaping from law school, she worked in schools and offices and has written many stories. Her work has appeared in about 50 publications. A few years ago, she was a finalist in The Great American Think-Off Competition, arguing that humans are inherently good. She came in 2nd place, losing (by live audience vote) to the guy who argued that humans are inherently evil. Breaking Bad in New York Mills, Minnesota!