My friend Ed observed the other day that the two forces which made the modern South possible are integration and air conditioning. The more I think about that statement, the truer it becomes. We obviously still have huge issues with racial tensions throughout this country–the sad case of Trayvon Martin makes that only too clear. Yet, as my African-American friend has told me before, things are a whole lot better than they were 50 years ago. I hope we can get still further down that road.
On the subject of air conditioning, the heat and humidity of this summer has led me to remember what it was like in the summer in Tennessee. When I was a small child we only had a big unit air conditioner in the dining room window, which was supposed to cool the entire house. It was not nearly big enough, so we had circulating fans on the floor in our bedrooms. The rhythmic hum of the fan was as good as white noise to help me fall asleep, while the movement of air washing over me made me feel cooler.
On the worst nights, when the air conditioner just couldn’t cool enough and the air was thick with humidity, Daddy would get out the car and we would go for a ride after dark with the windows rolled down. The sticky air didn’t help much but the breeze coming through the windows was better.
We spent one summer in an old, dilapidated house without enough wiring for air conditioners while the house on the farm was being built. It had thick walls which did keep it from heating up as much as it would have otherwise. But many a night I laid in bed, sheets thrown off, sweating even with a fan pointed at me from the floor.
Air conditioning in modern office buildings made it possible for industry to move to the South, which made city life and civilization preferable to farming for many people, and brought diverse populations to the area. Air conditioning in homes made it much more comfortable to live there. It was a big change which I am grateful for, even here in New York–the third heat wave of the summer began yesterday!