As temperatures soar this summer of 2019, I’m thinking about ways we used to beat the heat in the previous century.

Or rather, how we “tried” to beat the heat.

BAC -- Before Air Conditioning  -- we never could win that battle against unrelenting, sweat-dripping summer heat.

I remember a valiant effort made by a young lady strolling through The Baytown Sun building on Pearce Street one afternoon, summer of ’52. She was wearing a bathing suit.

Being an investigative reporter wannabe, fresh out of high school,  I asked her: “Why are you wearing a bathing suit?”

Sounding a lot like Mae West, she replied, “Trying to beat the heat.”

(Before the cops arrived, the bathing beauty left the building.)

Actually, the best way to cool off was to go to the picture show. Movie theaters had cooling systems, and – as far as the anti-sweat crowd was concerned -- it didn’t matter what show was playing. It was worth the price of a ticket to chill out in a dark theater. If we didn’t like cowboys singing off-key or gorillas terrorizing New York City, so what. We didn’t have to watch. In our cool kingdom, we were content.

Maybe there were some, but I don’t remember any public buildings with air-conditioning when I was growing up in the World War II era. Attic and floor fans ruled the day, along with table-top fans. Most of all, we valued easy-to-open windows.

These amenities, however, took a toll. With breezes blowing from windows and fans going full speed, papers could go ballistic in a room, especially a classroom.

The main way we cooled off in church was to wave cardboard fans in front of our faces. As a souvenir, I should have kept one of those fans touting the giver, Paul U. Lee Funeral Home, a longtime local business that also provided ambulance service. And cardboard fans.

Another thing about windows in the wide, wide world of hot weather: No vehicles had air-conditioning, but all had – aha! – windows. Rolled-down windows were the forerunners of AC.

By the time my generation entered the teen years, air-conditioning units began jutting from windows in homes. To have one, was a status symbol. To have more than one window unit? Golly, those people must have been rich.

Those who didn’t have any AC units gravitated to the homes of friends who did – remindful of places that had the first TV sets. Didn’t poet Robert Frost say that fences make good neighbors? Well, so did TV and AC.

Being among the have-nots, I took refuge in my favorite comfort zone, the Community House owned and operated by Humble Oil & Refining Co. (now ExxonMobil). Taking a seat in its library, I watched TV for the first time (didn’t matter what show) and relaxed in an air-conditioned building.

That’s as good as it got.

Wanda Orton is a retired managing editor of The Sun. She can be reached at viewpoints@baytownsun.com, Attention: Wanda Orton.


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