How did people beat the heat in the old days? That's the question older people are answering these days, for themselves as well as for youngsters who ask it. Survival in summer was no miracle. We expected July and August to be blazing hot. No one pined for air conditioning because it wasn't known -- we didn't even know the words!
Hand-held fans produced a cool breeze on a sweaty brow. Churches, movie houses, public buildings of all kinds had fans for their customers' use, and they were often given free as advertising. These fans were pieces of light cardboard with a wooden handle. Missionaries and world travelers had interesting Japanese or Chinese fans with bamboo strips between two sheets of cloth or strong paper; they folded into a neat shape that fit into a lady's purse. People made fans for their own use from pieces of cardboard or by folding stiff paper and swinging it back and forth. Today, fans are collectible, particularly those with messages printed on them or pictures of politicians.
We got up early and did as much as possible before noon and prepared for the next day when the sun started to go down. Farm work had to go on: Corn had to be planted and plowed; hay had to be cut and stacked when it was cured; cows had to be milked twice each day; milking barns had to be cleaned; and all of the animals had to be fed and watered.
We pumped cool water from in-ground cisterns that collected rainwater from the roofs of buildings and stored it below ground, where it stayed cool.
Farmers didn't have much ice except what was "put up" off the pond in winter and stored in ice houses with sawdust packing to retard its melting. We could make ice cream with that ice and chill the milk that was in cans or glass bottles, but if we were to have ice rattling in our ice tea, it had to be bought in town, wrapped in wet gunny sacks and hauled four miles to our iceboxes at home and at the milk house.
We always had ice because Dad bought it in a huge, 300-pound chunk for dairy needs.
Bess and John Estes, our neighbors, cooled their milk, skimmed the cream from the top of the container and hung the cream can in a spring. The spring produced cool water from the ground; cream cans were tied and half submerged to keep the cream cool and "sweet." Sour cream was collected for about a week and then churned to make butter; eggs and butter were bought or traded at grocery stores. Cool spring water was served to guests instead of soda pop.
Another relief from the heat was to put the folded bed sheets in the icebox for an hour before bedtime. Mom said, however, that because I was born in late July, I seemed to sleep better than most on hot nights.
In those days, 1914, babies were supposed to be wrapped in blankets. That might be why I have tolerated heat and cold better than some others in the family.
Men had no trouble sleeping on hot nights, but Mom and I often rolled a mattress and lugged it out to our flat, uncovered front porch. I looked forward to sleeping under the stars, and I think she did, too.
One night we were awakened by a strange noise. "Thud, thud, thud." It came closer. We were really puzzled and slightly afraid. It came right up to us on the porch. Suddenly we could identify our own two mules nuzzling to determine who and what was on that mattress!