Some of us can remember the days when few homes were air conditioned. Out of necessity, our parents and grandparents devised clever methods of keeping themselves and their families cool during the hot summer months. These strategies will still come in handy today for people living in homes which lack this amenity, if there is a power failure, or if the cooling unit itself breaks down.
Resourceful families, not so long ago, cooled off using these creative ideas:
* Children, of course, had fun running through the garden hose. After they were tired, the adults, sitting on lawn chairs in the shade, placed the hose setting on “mist” and sprayed their legs and feet. As their skin air-dried, it had a very cooling effect.
* Soaking the feet in a bucket of cold water was refreshing. As the water warms up, you kept replacing it with cold. The cool blood in the feet was carried to the rest of the body through the blood vessels. Soaking hands and wrists in a sink of cold water has a similar effect.
* Everyone wore as little clothing as possible. Clothes were loose-fitting, light-colored and made of natural materials (cotton or linen, as opposed to synthetic fibers). Flowing caftans were great for the ladies, baggy shorts were comfortable for the guys and the children lived mostly in bathing suits.
* For a fast and drastic cooling off, nothing could beat donning a wet T-shirt and sitting in front of a fan.
* If you wanted to keep moving, you only had to wet the sleeves of your T-shirt, and the legs of your shorts or slacks. The damp cloth slapping repeatedly against your arms and legs had a lovely cooling effect until the clothing dried. Then, you could carry a squirt bottle of water and dampen the material down again.
* Electrical appliances were never used unnecessarily during a heat wave. No ovens or stoves- everyone enjoyed salads, sandwiches, lemonade and iced tea. Laundry was postponed until the heat wave broke; not much clothing was being worn anyway.
* The freezer was stuffed with frozen fruit treats: cherries and berries, watermelon and cantaloupe chunks, wedges of pineapple and oranges. You cooled off while you ate nourishing, natural, vitamin-packed snacks.
* More time was spent in the basement if that was practical. Since hot air rises, the lowest level in the house was always the coolest. Some children enjoyed “camping out” at night on sleeping bags in the rec room or the most livable part of the cellar.
* A seldom-fail bedtime ritual to fall asleep in a warm house on a hot night: climb into a tub of cool water. When you are comfortable with that temperature, drain half the water, and refill the tub with colder water. Keep repeating the process until you are feeling almost shivery. Get out, go to bed, lie on a cotton sheet with no cover , or at most, under another cotton sheet. Sweet dreams!
Of course these suggestions are meant as a supplement to common sense restrictions during a hot spell, such as avoiding strenuous activity, taking frequent rest breaks, staying calm, drinking lots of water and doing necessary chores in the coolest part of the evenings.
The human race survived without air conditioning for many years. There was less pollution, more opportunities for interacting with neighbors and bonding with family. When you think about it, some modern conveniences are at best, mixed blessings.