I don’t like summer much. It’s just too dang hot and it seems like it lasts as long as the other three seasons put together. The only things I really like about summer are the sweet corn and ripe tomatoes.
Well, truth be told, I don’t really mind the jogging college women, molded into their running togs, their sculpted thighs and calves straining for perfection, their glistening beads of sweat trickling down their sculpted abdomens, and that dreamy-eyed, open-mouthed look they get when the endorphins hit. I wouldn’t come right out and say that I enjoy those jogging women. Let’s just say I notice.
Anyhow, I’ve got my reasons for not liking summer. Back home in South Carolina, where I grew up, there were two summer temperatures: hell-hot all day and bathwater-hot all night. That kind of heat can work on your heart and your mind.
There was no air conditioning at the Jowers house. There was just the Hunter Zephair fan mounted in the kitchen window. We set it to suck instead of blow, then cracked every window about four inches. Every Jowers settled in front of a window. My mother Susie stayed in the kitchen, making delicious fried chicken, lard-laced biscuits and cream gravy that would gum up the Jowers adults’ hearts and kill them before they turned 50. Meanwhile, in the living room, my daddy Jabo got the recliner in front of the TV and I took a seat on the sofa. The mighty Zephair pulled in the swampy air, which, if you stayed planted right in front of your window, would dry off your sweat about as fast as you could make it.
When I turned 6, I spent my days at Burnettown Elementary School, a quarter-mile up the road from my house. There was radiator heat but no air conditioning at Burnettown Elementary. Around the first of May, the teachers pulled up the blinds and opened the triple-hung windows. They pulled the top sash down, pushed the bottom sash up, opened the transoms and hoped that cross-ventilation and convection would keep 30-some children from getting heat stroke.
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, and about 30 hormone-loaded teenagers in every classroom. The classrooms at LBC smelled a lot like the locker rooms. Oh, in case you’re wondering, I can’t really remember smelling the girls’ locker room, but I think I did once or twice. Or maybe a whole lot of times.
During my high school years, Jabo acquired an enormous commercial-sized heat-and-air unit. “I found it at the side of the road,” he said. After a few days’ work, Jabo had the ducts, tubing and wiring hooked up and ready to go. He came inside the house and saw that the thermometer registered 90 degrees. He 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 lights dimmed, the mighty A/C unit groaned, the walls shook and gale-force wind from the ducts blew the curtains up to the ceiling. Ten minutes later, it was February cold in the Jowers house.
“I believe it’s a little oversized,” Jabo said.
A few weeks later, just after my high school graduation, Jabo’s cream gravy collected all in one spot and gave him a heart attack. He dropped dead on the dance floor of the Amvet’s Club in Augusta, Ga. The big air conditioner couldn’t live without Jabo; it died soon after he did.
After six years at LBC, most of us college-bound kids drove eight miles up the road to the University of South Carolina at Aiken (USCA), which at the time held classes in a 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 the classrooms. Banksia had triple-hung windows and transoms, just like Burnettown Elementary. In September and again in May, teachers and students poured sweat all day in Banksia.
After a year in Banksia, USCA moved into a brand-new, but soulless, two-story brick rectangle. At age 19, I had A/C all dang day.
The following summer, my rock ’n’ roll band started rehearsing in the dining room of the Jowers house. The Hunter Zephair had long since burnt up its bearings and the house was back to hell-hot. So our sound man—who 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. He acquired one for the house and one for Jabo’s old metal shop. I read the instructions, and I hooked those sumbitches up. The band, girlfriend Brenda and I had A/C full-time.
Not too long after that, our sound man found out that his wife had a boyfriend, so he shot himself in the heart. To this day, I envision Jabo and the sound man meeting up in the afterlife and talking about how they both hit their last good lick putting air conditioners in the Jowers house.
I sure hope the heat’s not bothering them now.