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Fanning the heat

The ceiling fans turn slowly in the night.  They are not on high speed because the slow click, click, click sound keeps me awake.  The other small fan on the floor supplies the white noise I need to sleep.  Between the two, the cool air provided by the heat pump is stirred and provides me with a good sleep during the hot Summer.

It was not always this way.  We had no ceiling fans during my youth.  Houses built in the early 1960s had eight foot ceilings which had fan blades so low it was easy to touch them if you raised your hands.   

Perhaps that is why we enjoyed visiting my grandparents’ home and their cottage at Compass Lake.  Both had high ceilings and big attic fans that droned through the night.  They pulled the cool night air through the open windows and circulated it through the house.  

This meant that everyone had to leave their doors open to get the full effect of the circulating air.  To this day I can remember the different snores of great-grandparents, grandparents, parents and every sibling and cousin that slept in those houses during the hot Dog Days of Summer.  

I was in the eighth grade when the first air-conditioning window unit made its appearance in a bedroom window at our house.  A year or so later, a second, larger unit was placed in a den window.  Before long we were blessed with central air, something that I could not have even imagined in my early childhood days.

Quickly, cars, trucks and even tractors had air-conditioning.  Every office and restaurant supplied conditioned air.  Schools gradually became air-conditioned, though it was years later before your school bus ride home had AC.  Even walking down the street changed as suburban malls provided a respite from the hot, humid air of the Summer in the south.  

I was acclimated to the heat of my youth, thanks to long days in the watermelon fields and the peanut mill.  A fan was a blessing, but not necessary.  The church fan was a welcome fixture to anyone attending services in the Summer, efficiently fighting the heat and the gnats at the same time.

However, the current heat wave of the Summer of 2023 has been something to behold.  The relentless heat index of temperatures above 100 seems infinitely hotter than the Summers of my youth.  Any acclimation to the heat I once had is long gone.  Our home, kept at a cool 72 degrees, has become our refuge.  All you have to do is take the few steps from the air-conditioned car to the house to remain comfortable.

On the hottest day in years, maybe ever, with a heat index of 109 degrees, one of our HVAC units decided to give up the battle.  The compressor was 18 years old so I cannot really complain.  Its replacement will take a week to be installed.  We can make it, my wife and I told ourselves, as the den and kitchen rose to a balmy 87 degrees.  The expansive glass that we love in our new house became our enemy as it let in relentless sunlight and caused our inside temps to rise.

Along the way, I decided to break out the various fans we have for tailgating at our house during football season.  I eventually devised a system that pushed the air down the hall from our still cool bedroom and through another room into the den.  The air was stirring everywhere, and gradually the temperature became bearable.  Bearable is a different word from comfortable, but it beats sweating in your own recliner.

The irony is that we have once again become accustomed to the low steady drum of fans throughout the house.  We are sleeping soundly and even later than normal.  The gentle breeze while watching television brought back memories.

We had a table fan in my youth, which was a table that had a fan built in the base with slats that pushed the air outward.  My brother and I would lay in the den floor watching television and slide our toes through the slates.  The goal was to have your toes barely touch the fan blades without cutting yourself.  They were not terribly sharp blades, but they were capable of inflicting damage if you were not too careful.  We succeeded most, but not all, of the time. 

Those were the good old days, made bearable by a simple fan, first invented almost 150 years ago.  It has been nice to remember the past, but I will still be very happy when our new unit, priced at half of what our first house cost, is installed.  Look for icicles on our windows the first night or two.

Dan Ponder can be reached at

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