Altar Call – Opelika-Auburn News

Walter Albritton

June 8, 2008


Remembering nights when the attic fan pulled cool air across your bed


          Everywhere I turn people are asking, “What happened to springtime?” The usual answer is that we had only a few days of spring this year. The sweltering heat of summer is upon us. And we all know the next cool spell will not show up until October or November.

          These are days when I battle with family members about the setting of the AC thermostat. I keep raising it and they keep lowering it. The 90-degree heat makes some of us want the house to be a cool 70 degrees. My suggested setting of 72 seems too warm. Air conditioning, I fear, has spoiled a lot of us, especially the younger generation.  

          Two things help me to feel comfortable with a higher theremostat setting. Obviously one is the power bill. It costs money to cool a house in the summertime. Somehow it makes sense to me to save a little by raising the thermostat. When the monthly electric bill comes in during the summer months, I always wish I had set the thermostat on 80 degrees.

          My memory is the other thing that helps me. I remember that in my childhood days the windows of our home had screens. We had no heating and cooling system. We endured the heat by opening the windows and the doors. Back then we had screen doors too, and we never locked them unless we were away from home for a few days.

          Kerosene lamps provided light at night before REA finally reached us with electricity. In the winter we heated the house by burning wood in several fire places. I recall that one of my earliest chores was cutting wood with an ax and bringing it into the house, large pieces for the fireplaces and smaller pieces for the wood-burning stove that Mamma cooked on.

          During the 1940s Dad decided to rent a Propane Gas tank and install “space heaters” in the house. One was positioned in each fire place, thus retiring the fire place and heating with wood. We felt like we were “moving on up” as a family when we began using those space heaters. At the time we had little awareness of how dangerous they were. Fortunately we never experienced an accident with those heaters.

          Years later Dad removed the space heaters and replaced them with much more efficient and less dangerous, electric heaters. They did the job until finally they too were replaced by an air conditioning system that used duct work to cool the whole house.

          When electricity became available in the mid-thirties Dad and Mom used small electric fans, usually one in each room. They were helpful but not as nice the larger window fans we secured later. The fans did not cool the air but they did move it. Moving the air provided us a bit of an indoor breeze that helped us endure the heat. They were cheap fans and the coil would burn out frequently. That left us nothing to do but sweat until we could go into town on Saturday and buy a replacement.

          I remember well the day my dad got up the money to buy a large electric attic fan. He installed it in the hall in the center of the house. What a blessing that fan was during the summer!  All of our beds were beside a window. At night we opened the window slightly, about five or six inches. The powerful attic fan would suck the air across your bed and allow you to sleep in heavenly comfort.

That was our first air conditioning “system.” As the temperature dropped at night the air coming across our bed became cooler. By midnight we might have pulled a sheet up over us, but never a bedspread. During those attic fan days we felt we were “up town;” we were really living. Never having heard of air conditioning we had no reason to feel deprived.

          In this age of “entitlements” I suppose some people may feel they are “entitled” to cool air at someone else’s expense. Those who think like that are badly mistaken. Cool air is a luxury which millions of people cannot afford. We who enjoy it should not take it for granted. Remembering what life was like in “the good old days” can inspire an attitude of gratitude.

          There are after all more important issues of life than the room temperature. We must be careful not to allow minor issues to become major. That I try to remember when I find the thermostat turned down so low that if my Dad were still alive, he would say “It feels like hog-killing time in here!” + + +