A SUMMER MANTRA
When I was a little kid, air conditioning was an oddity -- a miracle found only in grocery stores and movie theatres. Nobody I knew, in the late 1950s, had an air conditioner in their house.
And so, in the summer, our windows were always open, unless it was raining.
At night, a whippoorwill in the swamp, just beyond my window, would keep me awake with his relentless call. He reminded me of myself, when I'd beg and whine for a Popsicle or whatever, and not letting it go until someone gave in.
One night, I called for my mother, asking would she please make that whippoorwill stop? Mum sat in the darkness, on the edge of my bed, and sighed -- she loved the sound of that bird.
One sticky Saturday afternoon, my father came home from Sears Roebuck struggling with a big, flat cardboard box.
Now, a new machine in the house is always cause for celebration, and this was no exception. Dad pried open the box and slid out a big electric fan.
It was a window-mounted fan, and, wonder of wonders, my father installed it in MY bedroom window. The idea was to wait until the sun had set and the air had cooled down. Then, it would draw the night air in past the screen door in the kitchen, through the house, shoving the hot breath of daytime out my window.
The fan had green and red 'on' and 'off' buttons (both of which were extremely satisfying to push. Start, stop, start -- they snapped into place as I leaned into them with my thumb). There was even a wind-up timer built in, so the fan would turn off all by itself.
The tight grill made it hard for me to stick my fingers anywhere close to those whirling blades, but a pencil held just so produced a happy staccato noise, not unlike the sound of the bubble gum card clothes-pinned to my bicycle wheel.
But the best feature, by far, of this window fan was the sound it made. I would play with it during the day, but it wasn't officially turned on by my father until long after I had gone to bed, when the outside air had finally cooled down enough to be invited inside.
Until it was time for the fan, I would lie there on top of my sheet, the hall light spilling across the end of my bed, and listen to the murmur of grownup voices in the living room. Hard to tell what they were saying -- but hard to ignore it, too. Now and then came the taunting, sharp whine of a mosquito dancing around my ear.
And then the fan would start up. Within seconds, deep nighttime inhabited our house and cool air flowed over me, drowning the voices and the bugs. That soft, constant hum wrapped around me and suddenly I was blissfully alone inside my head, listening to my own voices, set free to spiral upward into dreams.