by Bill Monson
Living where I do now, on the very verge of he Pacific, where the sea breezes blowing over the cold Alaska current, keep the beach weather cool even when it's triple digits just 20 miles inland, I sometimes wonder how I ever survived Galesburg's summers.
My California neighbors tend to think of Illinois as cold -- and it sure enough can be -- but it was the summers that used to get me. When Dog Days arrive on the prairies, I'm glad to be where I am-- even though I don't usually see the sun until noon because of a morning marine layer caused by that sea breeze.
While Galesburg swelters in weather like last week's, the peak temperature in Pismo Beach is around 70 degrees; and when I turn to the national weather map in my morning paper and see the entire midwest labeled as ''Oppressive,'' I'm content that I don't have to plan my day around air conditioning.
Back in the forties and fifties... Back in the Forties and Fifties, of course, Galesburg didn't have much air conditioning. Few stores downtown had it, and movie theaters did a good business even with poor pictures because they had air conditioning; but most of us couldn't afford it for our houses and it used a heckuva lot of electricity. Some people even thought it brought on summer colds.
No cars had it; we rolled down the windows or opened little wind wings at the front of the windows to funnel the outside air over us. That wasn't always effective; and it was rare when you could keep a shirt collar from wilting by noon.
Most of us had insufficient insulation, too, so our houses got hot during the day and didn't cool off very much at night. I remember our primitive attempts at air cooling: buying a chunk of ice to put in a galvanized tub and run a fan across it. Wetting our sheets. Big exhaust fans at either end of the second floor to push cooler night air (if it existed!) through the house.
Of course, we'd open all the doors and windows -- but that pretty much stopped in the 1960s when burglaries began to be a problem around the Burg.
Before then, we might even leave all the doors and windows open and go for a ride in the car, hoping all the fans running would cool off the house before we got back.
There'd be a stop for Highlander's ice cream. Maybe we'd drive out to Lake Storey to loop around 13 Curves in search of a breeze or park outside the cable which served as an outfield fence to watch a couple innings of night softball. Then it was home again, praying the temperature had dropped sufficiently for us to sleep.
Sleeping out in the backyard was popular for kids; but I didn't care much for it. With chiggers below and mosquitoes above, I rarely got much sleep.
As I got older and played softball for Butler and the East Main Street Congregational Church, I hated such heat. However, in my usual spot in right field, at the Lake Storey diamond I was close to a pump along the foul line. By the third inning, I was so wet with sweat that I simply pumped water over my head and shirt to cool off before coming in to bat. And if I had to slide! I came home from some games a muddy wreck. I'd go in the house via the back porch, dropping my socks, shirt and pants across the clothesline out back, then hurry through the house in my underpants -- Dad berating me for my brazenness -- on my way to the bathroom upstairs.
I nagged Dad about putting in a shower, but that was too expensive, he said -- so I had to settle for a cool bath with a big sponge to wring over my head. And what a ring I left!
When I loaded grain bins onto railroad cars at Butler, I worked the night shift. The first four hours were like working in Hell. I wore a sweat band around my forehead; but it couldn't begin to keep me cool or even stop the sweat from running into my eyes. By eight o'clock, things might cool somewhat; but many nights, it stayed hot even after I got home at midnight.
Things are much better in the Burg now, but I still rarely come back between Memorial Day and Labor Day. Which is why I'm glad my 45th reunion this fall at Knox is in October and my 50th reunion at GHS is in mid-September next year. And there's lots of air conditioning just in case. Thank you, Mr. Carrier!