SURRATT: An appreciation of the Air Conditioner

Published 4:00 am Friday, September 3, 2021

Last week, before the specter of Ida hitting this area raised its ugly head, I got into a discussion with someone about air conditioning.

Air conditioning is what makes life in the balmy climes well, livable. We seek the cooling atmosphere of our home, office or whatever restaurant where we enjoy lunch as the haven from triple-digit sensations that make us sweat (not perspire) and suck the energy out of us.

And the big question we all ask at sometime during the summer is, “What did we do without air conditioning?” As one who is old enough to remember those days when air conditioning was seen as a novelty and a luxury, I can tell you.

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We sweated. There was no such thing as the “heat index;” it was just hot!

You sat in your house with the windows open, fans going and hoping the screens were in good shape. If you were ordered from the house to “go outside and play,” you headed for the nearest shade tree or the garage or carport or anything that provided shade and you stayed there. You didn’t move too much unless you heard that marvelous sound of the summer — the ice cream man. Oh, what a Popsicle, fudge bar or Nutty Buddy could do to help relieve the heat.

If you were really lucky, a nearby store had a snow cone machine that gave you a double rush of cold and brain freeze. There was only one other way to beat the heat: go to the movies. The house may not have air conditioning, but the theater did and Baton Rouge had a good selection with the Paramount, the Hart, the Gordon and later the Broadmoor (that came when I was a teen).

There were some good flicks, and living along one of the city’s main roads meant a lot of bottles tossed by the side of the road. If you didn’t have any money at the time for the show, picking up bottles was a worthwhile and easy activity to get the price of admission, which in the late 50s and early 60s was less than $1.

We got our first air conditioner, a large window unit, in 1963. It cooled the living room and went off at bedtime when the windows were opened and the fans came on.

The family car, however, lagged behind. The only car we had with an air conditioner was my father’s and it was a company car. The family car was a 1960 Chevrolet station wagon. It had an air conditioner in a sense. It was a 5-90 air conditioner — you rolled down all five windows and went 90 mph. My first car was a 4-90; it was one of three cars I had with no air. One had air, but it went out and I couldn’t afford to fix it.

Over the years, air conditioning is now a staple in our lives. And as I get along in years, the days without air survive as a memory. I miss them some, but I’m glad for the air conditioning that’s helped make my life a bit easier. I appreciate it more, because I remember what it was like without.

About John Surratt

John Surratt is a graduate of Louisiana State University with a degree in general studies. He has worked as an editor, reporter and photographer for newspapers in Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama. He has been a member of The Vicksburg Post staff since 2011 and covers city government. He and his wife attend St. Paul Catholic Church and he is a member of the Port City Kiwanis Club.

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