The VIEW from here
I grew up in a town, not much bigger than Hadley, and no one I knew had air conditioning in their homes. The local grocer, who had a store not much bigger than a 7-11, propped open his front and back doors in high summer and had two ancient box fans rattling and humming in the back.
A friend of my parents who lived on the big lake south of town built a stunning home on a cove in the ’60s. He installed the latest and greatest hydronic heating system, but thought central air was a frivolous expense. Years later when he’d passed away and his widow decided to downsize, that decision would come back to plague her.
Almost no one in the village, save a banker or lawyer driving a Cadillac, had air conditioning in their cars. I grew up, like most of the dairy farmers surrounding my town, thinking that air condition was an ostentation reserved for people with enough idle time to spend an afternoon playing golf. Neither my first new car, a ‘72 Dodge Dart Sport, nor my second, a ‘78 Pontiac Sunbird, came with AC.
That sleek black and tan Pontiac eventually carried me to my first newspaper job in the Florida Keys where I learned air conditioning wasn’t a luxury, but a necessity. I spent the next six years driving everywhere at warp eight with the windows all down. If you’ve ever been caught in a traffic jam in Miami during a thunderstorm, with no AC, you know why people who leave their dogs in their cars while they go shopping should be horse whipped. The world was vastly different BAC. Today when I step out on to my porch at night, I hear a chorus of Trane, Lennox, Bryant and others humming away in the darkness. When I was a kid it was the creak and slam of screen doors and the voice of Ernie Harwell. About half the people in town listened to Ernie’s Georgia twang on WJR, the Great Voice of the Great Lakes. Walking from my parents’ house to a friend’s, his voice would rise and fall like a southern roller coasters. “It’s high and outside with two men on base...,” Harwell was the voice of summer. If Harwell was the voice of summer, than the mill pond bridge was its heart. Every kid in town would gather there by mid morning and spend the rest of the day leaping from its gray, gritty surface into the pond’s dark, cold water. At night, some kids would knock out the single light bulb suspended over the bridge to go skinny dipping.
Years later I discovered that in their teenage years my sisters discovered that with my father’s binoculars, they had a perfect view of that bridge from their bedroom on all but moonless nights.
The other pole of childhood existence was Hamway’s Market. When we got bored with swimming, we’d follow the road south of town until we found enough soda and beer bottles to cover the price of a Coke and a Twinkie. Then we would all troop to the store where the little Lebanese guy, who pinched our mothers’ behinds at every opportunity, would ring up our purchases.
We’d wolf our snacks down perched on the kerosene tank or clogging the store’s front steps. And the cycle would repeat until the maples turned scarlet and it was time to go back to school.