This is one of those years when you don’t know what to put on when you get up in the morning. Before the day is over you might be panting or freezing.
One day the wind is out of the North — that’s when a long-sleeved shirt feels good. The next day the wind has switched to the South, the sun is out with the humidity so thick you can cut it with a knife – time for a t-shirt and shorts.
Fortunately modern science has come to our rescue. Nearly every place and every thing (homes, businesses, factories, trucks, cars, tractors, campers – and, believe it or not, boats) are air conditioned. No doubt our suffering is a lot less than it was 60 or more years ago. Back in the 1950s you had to look long and hard to find a cool place.
The movie theaters and big city restaurants were air conditioned and featured big signs in their windows (with icicles hanging from them) proclaiming: Come on in, it’s cool inside!
With air conditioning so limited, people really searched for ways to keep cool. Swimming pools were jammed to the point of bursting and ice cream was more of a necessity than a treat.
Nearly everyone had at least a couple big shade trees in their back yard and that’s where most of the family’s activities were held. You ate under them, visited under them and even slept under them.
Not only were the trees a source of comfort on summer days, they also served as built-in playgrounds for the younger members of the family. Few were the backyard trees that didn’t have some type of modification protruding from them: boards for climbing and ropes for swinging.
The most creative additions were the tree houses. They varied from a few boards forming a platform to elevated castles complete with lookout towers and secret entrances.
These fortresses served as protection from such threats as wild animals, Indians and girls. They were far from just fun spots. Plenty of serious business was conducted within the walls of those abodes. Clubs were formed complete with secret memberships and special requirements for admittance.
As important as the trees were for climbing and forts, they also supported such devices as bag swings. I don’t know how many readers have ever felt the thrill of riding a speeding gunnysack through Iowa’s summer air, but if you haven’t, you have my sympathy.
Our bag swings consisted of an old feed sack stuffed with just the proper amount of straw. (Too little stuffing made for an uncomfortable ride while too much made them hard to hold on to.) There was nothing quite as cooling as the air rushing past you as you flew airborne.
The swing was always attached to a big, heavy branch, protruding far enough out to allow the swinger plenty of room from the trunk. A clean path for the swing’s arc was also a necessity.
Another requirement was a good launching spot. This meant a place one could climb while holding on to the swing, slip his legs around the swing and then let go. The further back, the better.
Not only did we see how far and fast we could swing, we also invented different contests. One of the hardest tests of skill and daring was to lean over and pick up a small rock while at full speed. Contests like this often resulted in skinned knuckles or tree trunk collisions.
Our champion bag swinger was Jargo Jones. He could grab a rock on the first pass and then replace it on the return flight. I don’t know how he ever used that special talent, but he certainly was the best bag swinger around.
A draw-back to bag swinging was rainy weather. The burlap and straw combination tended to get a little ripe. Mothers seemed to get quite upset with us. They claimed our jeans smelled like we’d been riding a camel.
So, as you can tell, keeping cool back in the 1950s was an entertaining task. Maybe we should start using bag swings today instead of air conditioners. Think of all the electricity we could save plus all the aerobics we would gain.
(Ed Rood is the former publisher of the Tri-County Times. He lives near Cambridge.)