Now that I am sitting in a mildly air-conditioned room, my thoughts are clear once more. But last Sunday I was staying at a cottage in the country near The Plains, VA. When it was time to leave I could only find one of my dogs. One was missing. My brain nearly fried, when looking for my dog ‘Sisi.’ It is a big farm and it was impossible to tell which way she had gone. Outside in the oppressive, debilitating, indescribable heat, and humidity, I was miserable. It was necessary to find her before driving home to Washington, DC.

I found Sisi, my missing dog after only a few minutes, though it seemed longer. I believe that little rascal came back because she was also simply too hot to continue to hunt. Her tongue was hanging out so far I was afraid she would trip over it.

By the time I got into my car, my shirt was soaked with sweat. I was wearing white pants and a white cotton tank top. But to disguise my belly, I wore a periwinkle blue linen loosely fitting shirt over the tank. Since it is a natural fabric, it was not as hot as a synthetic one would have been. It wicked away the sweat from my body and soaked the shirt. I stopped by my daughter’s studio to say goodbye. It is evident that my shirt was wet or at least damp. Even though my car was air-conditioned, I had driven for less than 10 minutes, and I was still hot. It was only later after another 10 minutes or so in the car that I finally began to be comfortable and cool. That drive was fine, but what about the old days before cars were to air-conditioned? How did people do it?

I know just how she feels

Actually, in the mid-60s before we had an air-conditioned car, it was a real problem going to a party or event. One extremely hot day in 1965 I was preparing to go to a very elaborate wedding from our house on Kalorama Road. I had arranged my hair and makeup, and my dress was lovely and slightly snug as I was still into the wasp-waist look. As I looked into the mirror, I was happy with myself. The image smiling back at me was cool, calm and rather splendid. It was still extra fun for me to realize that people considered me grown-up. Even though I was married and the mother of 3 children it seemed only yesterday that I was in school.

So we got into our sweltering car and began to drive to the wedding, and immediately I began to melt. If we left the windows up the car was unbearable. If we put them down, my hair blew in my face, and the styling began to crumble. We had no choice but to continue, but that was the day that I determined that the very next car we bought MUST have air conditioning. And that is what happened. Very soon, we purchased a new vehicle. At that time, I believe we had the (un-air-cooled) Jaguar for Charley, and I had a blue station wagon. (not air-cooled, either)

Now, so many years later, it is hard to remember what exactly came next. My father presented me with a maroon Oldsmobile Station wagon to replace the blue one. And it was modern. Air conditioning was extra and expensive, but it was pre-installed. It was a big deal at that time to have an air-cooled car. I have rarely been so grateful. Hard to believe now, but we all expected to live without this new luxury. When we were able to move into an air-cooled vehicle it was a milestone.

It seems strange that cars weren’t cooled until 1939. Even then air-conditioning was only for luxury cars. Most limousines had it. Some privately owned fancy Buses were cooled. It was not until the mid-60s that it became relatively easy to find in new cars. That was the end of an era in Washington DC. The heat used to be a factor in the workplace. Offices closed during heat waves, even government offices. But air-conditioning the buildings cured that problem.

Now everything is under control here in DC. (Well, not EVERYTHING!) We may wilt walking from our car to the building we are going to, but inside we are OK. We can even wear long-sleeved dresses or a light jacket. Sometimes this is a good idea in case it is TOO cold inside.

Progress with air-conditioning does not, however, make it any easier to chase a tiny dog who is intent on hunting, in the middle of a hot, VERY hot, day in Virginia.

Copyright©. 2019 Bonnie B. Matheson

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