Listening to NPR on the ride to work this morning performed it usual magic - made me stop and think. An interview with a Floridian native who was cleaning up once again after a storm and living without benefit of electric central air conditioning for a short time sparked a memory of childhood and summertime.
Growing up, our family did not have central air conditioning. We did have central heat by the time I was in the 7th grade as well as a couple of electric AC units that were fitted into a window, but for the most part, our windows and doors were open during warm seasons. My mom would predict dire financial consequences if we turned the AC units on before 9:00 pm of a day, and earlier in the summer than the fourth of July. Dad wasn't made of money, you know.
Sitting in our living room, I could look across the street at the Johnson's house. Every weekday evening, Dale and Janet had to practice their organ lessons, and the neighborhood would be treated to strains of " How Do You Solve A Problem Like Maria?", or "Yellow Bird". If I sat just right on the front stoop, I could see the Johnson kids sitting at the electric organ, their backs nice and straight, and yellow lamplight spilling onto the music page opened before them and their cotton-topped heads. Fortunately for me and the whole block, the siblings were talented at the keyboard.
Out on their front porch swing, the Sagstetters enjoyed ringside seats. They seldom spoke aloud, enjoying the breeze and the magical communication long-married people understand. It was often embarrassing to say or do something stupid only to realize the two of them had been watching us play all evening. We were never chastized to get off their nice soft cool St. Augustine grass, and it was a favorite place.
Running and playing "Piggy Wants a Signal" at night through several neighboring yards would be accompanied by the zinging of bullets from the guns of the televised ranching Cartwright family, or Topo Gigo puppeting jokes with Ed Sullivan. Occasionally, you would hear a heated husband and wife argument. We didn't pause long to listen to these; even at a young age, we knew it was impolite to do so and would quickly find another yard to gambol in.
Early in the evenings, you could hear pots and pans clanging, and smell the aroma of suppers in the making. We knew who was having fried chicken and potatoes smothered in onions, or corned beef and cabbage, the enticing aromas working very favorably when manuervering an invite to stay and eat. No wristwatch was ever needed because sooner or later, someone's mom yelled for them to come in. We usually took that as a general call to baths for everyone and made our way to our own front doors.
Lying in bed, I could hear dads closing up the garages, pulling the big wooden doors down with a creak of the springs, a slam, then the click of a sliding bolt being latched. A few moms would still be at the kitchen sink, cleaning up the dishes, water running and cabinets shutting. Front yards grew dark, one by one, and the crickets took up their nightly chorus. Late night news would whisper out from an opened window, updates from the jungles of Viet Nam or a commercial encouraging you to see the USA in a Chevrolet.
Today, we live in airtight, closed off houses, with integrated alarm systems and high privacy fences. Cars are driven into garages with electronic openers and closed just as silently behind us. You can go for weeks without hearing or seeing much more of your neighbors than the phantom car departures and arrivals. No children play outside on front lawns, no moms call out familiar names, and no smells of any kind emanate from a screened back door opened for a chance of a cool breeze. Once, I could pedal my bike down my entire street - some 8 or more blocks and tell you who lived in at least every other house. Now, I am lucky if I know the name of more than one or two neighbors.
When Kman and I walk in the evenings after supper, there are no children out playing, no human sounds. Just the hum of powerful outside AC compressors and the occasional pool pump, keeping the water sparkling for unseen swimmers.