Hardy Jackson: Hot enough for you?
Jun 17, 2010 | 1746 views |  3 comments | 18 18 recommendations | email to a friend | print
I was going to write about Alabama’s recent primary elections, but until I could make sense of what the Republicans are up to, I decided to hold off ’till things become clear.

Which may be never.

So I decided to write about the Gulf Coast oil spill, but until I could make sense of what BP and the Feds are up to, I decided to hold off ’till things become clear.

Which may be never.

So I decided to write about air conditioning.

Last week, Professor Ray Arsenault came to town with a bunch of his students on the University of South Florida’s annual bus tour of civil rights era sites. The Spirit of Anniston hosted the students. Wish I had been there, but there were, you know, “conflicts.” Had I made it, I probably would have been a distraction, ’cause likely as not I would have brought up air conditioning.

In 1984, Arsenault published “The End of the Long Hot Summer: Air Conditioning and Southern Culture” in The Journal of Southern History. That article won a major award, and ever since Arsenault has been know as the “Air Condition Man.”

I thought of him a week or so ago when, riding back from Mobile, I was half-listening to NPR. I caught an interview with some woman who was going on about how air conditioning creates this great big carbon footprint and that we could save the planet if we stopped using so much of it.

She wasn’t from around here. Seattle, I think.

There are many dividing lines in Southern history. Pre- and post-segregation, pre- and post-hookworm eradication, pre- and post-air conditioning. Those of us who lived our youth in the pre-A/C era live with memories that are difficult to make fond.

Down on the Florida Panhandle, a fellow named Robert Davis found that out. His dream was to create an “old-fashion Florida town” where people would sit on front porches with ceiling fans stirring the heavy air while residents enjoyed the sweaty “indolence of the tropics” just like they used to.

He built Seaside, where every house was required to have a porch with a fan so people could sit at sunset and sweat and talk to passing neighbors. Only today, if you walk through town in the heat of a summer evening, instead of neighborly conversations you hear the hum of air conditioners. The porches are empty.

So much for the good-old days.

Now, I agree with Arsenault that the South lost a lot of its regional distinctiveness when air conditioning came on the scene. However, I can’t help but remember those bygone days when we would wrap an ice cube in a washrag at night and hold it to cheek or neck or wherever it made a difference just so some part of you could get cool and you might be able to sleep. And I remember waking in the morning in a puddle and wondering if it was me.

Because of air conditioning, my children have missed out on the steady hum of a big oscillating fan that cooled your face while the feet were hot then swung back to cool the other but never lingered long enough to make a difference.

And they have never slept on a sleeping porch.

My Uncle Buck had one, and when the weather warmed he migrated to it. When I visited in the summer, I joined him. But even there it was almost dawn before it was cool and comfortable — and sometimes not even then.

Chase down anyone my age and they will tell you of the misery of those pre-A/C summer days and nights, how we used to hang out in the few stores that were cooled and how we would go see lousy movies just to get out of the heat and into the “refrigerated” dark.

Give up air conditioning?

Think about it.

Think of the Southern cities like Atlanta that would be depopulated if those office buildings, malls and businesses were not cooled.

And then there is the down side.

Think of all those Yankees who would not relocate here if they had to deal with the heat.

OK, that wasn’t a down side, either.

Then think of how the murder and assault rate, which is already high enough, would skyrocket if there wasn’t A/C to cool people and tempers.

Now, back to the lady out in Seattle.

Today, as I write, the high out there, 78, is only four degrees above the low down here. Tonight it will be 55 where she is and tomorrow her thermometer will only get up to 70. Meanwhile, in the sunny South, it will be 93 today, 71 tonight and 95 tomorrow.

Give up air conditioning?

Pardon me, Seattle lady, you gotta be kidding.

Harvey H. (“Hardy”) Jackson III is Eminent Scholar in History at Jacksonville State University and a columnist and editorial writer for The Star. E-mail: hjackson@jsu.edu.
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