Granny's Notes - the writing of Sue Gerard

Life before advent of air conditioning was no sweat

Our neighbors, Bess and John Estes, had a one-room home with a smaller, older summer kitchen about 15 strides away. The kitchen was stocked with a wood stove, pots and pans, drying racks for laundry and a table with stools for eating. Company was entertained in the combined living room and bedroom and then served a meal under the shade tree.

After our home was totally destroyed by a fire in 1922, Mom and Dad borrowed enough money to build an Aladdin Redi-Cut house, which had a furnace for winter and many windows to open for summer comfort. Window screens repelled flies, and swatters came in styles and colors to match the room decor. People didn’t pine for air conditioning because it wasn’t known - we wouldn’t have understood the words.

Working people sweated, and the affluent "perspired." The odor was tolerated because everybody had it! Rubbing alcohol was used by some and talcum power by most. Women wore underarm dress shields in their dresses to prevent staining.

Parts of the body "galled" because of friction, just as a horse would gall from a loose saddle. Cloth handkerchiefs were large and absorbent; frequent moistenings gave a cool wipe on a hot day.

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 light cardboard with a wooden slat handle. Japanese fans with bamboo strips between two sheets of cloth or paper folded into a neat shape and fit into a lady’s purse. People made fans for their own use from pieces of cardboard or by fan-folding stiff paper.

We got up early and did as much as possible before noon. When the sun went down, we prepared for the next day. Farm work had to go on. Crops had to be planted and plowed, hay to be cut, cured and stacked. Cows had to be milked twice each day, barns cleaned, animals fed and watered.

We pumped cool water from our underground wells or cisterns. Farmers didn’t have much ice except what was "put up" off the pond in winter and stored in the icehouse. It was packed in sawdust to retard melting.

We made ice cream and chilled the milk cans with pond ice, but if you wanted ice clinking in your glass of iced tea, it had to bought in town. We always had ice at our farm because Dad bought it in huge 300-pound chunks for the dairy.

Bess and John Estes 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 half-submerged to keep it "sweet." Sour cream was collected for about a week and then churned to make butter. Their cool spring water was served to guests instead of soda pop or tea.

Another relief from the heat was to put the bedsheets in the ice box for an hour before bedtime. Men seemed to have no trouble sleeping on hot nights, but Mom and I enjoyed sleeping on the front porch. We would roll out a mattress on our flat, uncovered front porch and sleep under the stars. I looked forward to it, and I think she did, too.

Click here to return to the index

 Subscribe in your RSS reader

Copyright © 1994-2010 Sue Gerard. All Rights Reserved. No text or images on this website may be reproduced in any form without written permission of the author, except small quotations to be used in reviews.