Personal Journeys with Gramma

Life adventures, inspiration and insight; shared in articles, advice, personal chats and pictures.

Some Like It Cooler

Not so many years ago (and still today), the poorest American homes had no heat. In fact, my family took the idea of centralized heating for granted, and we wrinkled our brows when we learned that many indigenous communities survived without oil or gas furnaces, struggling to stay warm enough through winter with coal or wood stoves that were often homemade. We were too naïve to realize that all cultures couldn’t or didn’t operate according to American preferences. For example, when my younger sister and I first visited Scotland, the bed and breakfast facilities within individual homes warmed only their public spaces—i.e. the lounge and dining room. The bedrooms were furnished with quilts to compensate for the cold. To heat more rooms than were being used was considered by locals to be grievously indulgent. Shivering, my sister secretly wore her extra panties on her head at bedtime in the style of Ebeneezer Scrooge (from A CHRISTMAS CAROL), who was famous for his ruffled nightcap. I warned her I’d disavow any connection with her if we had to flee a fire into the night.

Recently, keeping warm is not an issue in the northern hemisphere. People are dying from heat exposure. When my husband told a friend we have no air conditioning in our home, the other end of the telephone went silent. Not that every American in these times has air conditioning, but in a summer such as the one we’re experiencing, everyone wishes they had central air. The people who don’t—many elderly, the homeless, those incarcerated, those in older homes, and disadvantaged people who have no say about whether their apartments are cooled—try to survive. Our home rests at elevation, tucked against the Rocky Mountains, vulnerable to wildfires and blizzards more than to excess heat. In fact, we can count the number of days we endure each summer when the nights are hot enough to be uncomfortable. To date, we shrug and say whole house air conditioning isn’t worth the expense to us. Living in artificial coolness makes natural heat outside feel yet more miserable as you walk to your car or office. My dad used to claim the contrast stuffed his sinuses. But the 24 hour too-hot days are increasing. And so are power outages that require generators.

These are times when taking care of neighbors can become necessary. Some may avert their eyes when they see less fortunate people being carted off in ambulances, but many have learned the hard way that “fortune is a blind god”* and they themselves may be victimized by a misfortune—perhaps one other than heat (such as hurricanes, earthquakes, flash floods, sink holes, or wildfires)—and need the help of anyone who is able-bodied enough to answer the call (without regard to status). Life has a way of evening scores. Plus, there’s the consideration of conscience, for those who still entertain that concept. I’ve been scolded that I have no right to expect people to care about one another. It’s an ancient tenet of civilization and humanitarianism that some are ready to redefine or eliminate altogether. Society has always tolerated and frequently celebrated those who don’t get it.

  • “Old Coat” is a song popularized by Peter, Paul, and Mary.

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