I don't like summer. Never have. I got enough of hell-hot and gym-shower-humid summer days when I lived in South Carolina. I hate summer like I hate clouds of gnats trying to suck the juice out of my lower canaliculi, the eye parts that hold a man's tears when he gets a little misty.
In Burnettown, S.C., you get a kind of heat and humidity that can destroy your brain, your heart and your mind. For most of the 27 years I lived in the Jowers house, we had no air conditioning. All we had to cool us down was our Hunter Zephair 20-inch window fan mounted in the kitchen window. We pulled up every window in the house about four inches, and set the mighty Zephair to suck instead of blow. If you stayed planted right in front of your window, the breeze rushing in through the 4-inch crack would dry your sweat off about as fast as you could make it.
When I turned 6, I had to spend my days at Burnettown Elementary School, which was a quarter-mile up the road from my house. Burnettown Elementary had radiator heat — but no air conditioning. Around the first of May, the teachers opened the triple-hung windows. They pulled the top sash down, pushed the bottom sash up and hoped that cross-ventilation and convection would keep some 30 children from getting heat stroke. That's right, I said some 30 children. All of us sat in one classroom, the teachers never threatened to strike and at least one student ended up with a Mensa card.
After six years of lower education, we Burnettown kids went to Langley-Bath-Clearwater High School, which we called LBC. Well, don't you know, LBC had radiant heat in the floors, but no air conditioning. LBC had about 30 students in every classroom, each one pouring, sweating and oozing hormones from every gland. The classrooms and the locker rooms smelled pretty much the same, not that I ever stuck my nose into the girl's locker room.
One hot day in late May, I came home from school and found my daddy, Jabo Jowers, in his backyard metal shop wrenching on an enormous heat-and-air unit, a machine built to condition a space about the size of a high school gym. "I found it at the side of the road," he said.
After a few days' work, Jabo had the A/C unit hooked up and ready to go. The thermometer in the house registered 90 degrees. Jabo, sweating like a mule skinner, turned to me and said, "It's a damn fine day to have some A/C, don't you think, boy?"
"Fire it up," I said. "I've been waiting for this since I was born."
Jabo flipped the switch. The house lights dimmed, the mighty A/C unit groaned and the mighty wind from the ducts blew the curtains up to the ceiling. Ten minutes later, it was wintertime-cold in the Jowers house.
"I believe this thing's a little oversized," Jabo said.
"Don't adjust it," I replied. "I like it just like it is."
A few weeks later, just after my high school graduation, Jabo dropped dead on the dance floor of the AMVETS Club in Augusta, Ga. Apparently, the big air conditioner couldn't live without Jabo. It died soon after he did.
After six years at LBC, we college-bound kids drove eight miles up the road to the University of South Carolina at Aiken, which at the time held classes in a grand mansion named "Banksia." Well, don't you know, Banksia had a ballroom, church-high ceilings, chestnut floors and a slate roof, but she didn't have any air conditioning. In September, and again in May, teachers and students poured sweat all day in Banksia. The next year, USCA moved into a brand-new — but soulless — two-story brick building. At age 19, I finally had A/C all dang day.
The next summer, my rock 'n' roll band started rehearsing in the dining room of the Jowers house. The Hunter Zephair had long since burnt up, and the house was back to hell-hot. So our sound man — who besides being dedicated to the band, had a day job at a heat-and-air company — helped himself to a couple of his employer's brand-new heat-and-air units and hooked them up at the Jowers house.
Soon after that, then-girlfriend-now-wife Brenda and I moved to Nashville, then New York, then back to Nashville. Things have been mostly cool ever since.
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