I found him sitting at the bottom of our farmhouse's basement steps at 2 in the morning. It was the second week of July in Iowa farm country and there was no air conditioning. It was an Iowa heat wave and we were in the middle of it.
Dad looked up the stairs as I descended and asked what I was doing. I told him, "The same thing you are. I'm looking for any place cool."
Those of my generation who grew up without air conditioning remember vividly those oven-baking days of life on the plains during a summer sizzler. Times when regular thermometers failed to register the high temps of the day due to lack of the red mercury that filled their tubes.
We in these northern climes got a taste of that this past week.
Life without air conditioning called for desperate measures at times. With heat waves rising from pastures, a cool livestock watering tank looked mighty enticing. In fact, I and my brother found a dip in the tank revived our spirits on those hot days as we fixed fence or dug out bull thistles. The cows would huddle around us looking curiously at the two lads diving into the 3-foot deep pool. They were waiting for us to leave so they could stick their snouts in the tank and inhale gallons at a time.
Heat waves demanded that farmers and their kids get their work done early in the day or after sunset. There was no air conditioning on a flat rack wagon. The best that one could hope for was any type of breeze that came across the alfalfa field when the baler reached the end of the field and turned around to devour another row. The inferno that was present in the upstairs level of the barn was even worse.
This was the time of year when we weeded the soybean and cornfields by hand. Before modern day spraying completely took over, we could be found in the early mornings taking up two rows of either crop and trudging our way down the rows pulling cockleburs, sunflowers and button weeds.
By mid-morning, the heat reached a point whereby a human would simply keel over and drop to the sod if not rescued and sent back to the shade of the farm grove. Even though no air conditioning was to be found in the shade of an elm, any relief was welcome.
Our hogs were provided with a water hole to keep them from tipping over during those hot days. My granddad would merrily run a water hose into their pens and watch as the swine crew dove in, totally covering themselves in whatever mud they could stir up.
Today's hog confinement barns totally take away the pleasure a pig has by diving into a mud hole. I remember the hogs almost smiling as they lay there grunting their pleasure at being cooled off in their mud bath.
It was during such a blistering stretch that after not being able to get any sleep due to the extreme heat in the house one night, I ventured downstairs in the farmhouse and discovered the basement door open. It was never left open because of the bunch of youngsters who inhabited the house at the time. I went to close it when I smelled cigarette smoke drifting up from below.
I opened the door to see Dad sitting on the lower portion of the steps.
"What are you doing down there?" I asked.
"I couldn't sleep upstairs, so just getting a little cooled off down here," he said.
I joined him there and we both sat there and breathed a bit of cool, musty air. It really was a relief.
It was a time before air conditioning in the country. We who lived it do appreciate the modern convenience of air conditioning. To experience the experience of no AC, just pull your AC plug on a 90-degree day. You will be reliving a bit of farm history, but I'd guess not for long.
I wish I would have had air conditioning about 60 years earlier. But then again, I wouldn't have had that great time of sitting beside my dad, cooling off on those basement steps.
See you next time! Okay? Stay well!