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 one afternoon in particular, during the long, hot summer
of '52, when a young lady strolled through The Baytown Sun building.
She wore a bathing suit.
Being an investigative reporter wannabe, fresh out of high school,
I inquired, "Why are you wearing a bathing suit?"
Sounding much lot like Mae West, she replied, "Trying to beat the
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
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 lucky people
had to be 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 made 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 a newly
That's as good as it got.
© Wanda Orton
Baytown Sun Columnist
14, 2019 column