In the past, humankind took their oxygen any way they could.
Whether said oxygen seared a person’s nostrils or froze his lungs solid, whether accompanied by itchy allergens or Eau de Outhouse, he inhaled without question, never considering the possibility of an alternative.
Until Willis Carrier created the air conditioner.
Now, during summer, air-conditioning addicts and fresh-air freaks vie for domination.
Air-conditioning addicts consider Carrier their patron saint. They hole up during summer as if a three-month blizzard has struck.
I value air-conditioning on steamy summer days. Carrier’s blessed invention cools us and drains wet-cotton humidity from the air.
Yet, I crack windows a smidgen. No matter how bracing the air-conditioned breezes, I must mix fresh air to create my respiratory system’s favorite elixir.
I write every morning beside open patio doors. Riding my bike, I inhale the perfume of cool forests and wild roses that compete with blacktop’s tarry smell. I drive down country roads with windows wide open, the radio blaring.
However, I am not the radical my father is. During Louisiana’s hundred-degree weather, he runs his window air conditioner, but also throws open doors and windows to sanctify its fake chilly oxygen.
My mother, on the other hand, fostered a love/hate relationship with air au naturel. During my childhood, she chased us out of the house in the hottest weather: “Fresh air is good for you!”
Why wasn’t it good for her? The dichotomy seemed so unjust. She got to remain inside with a fan — while ironing for seven and canning vast quantities of pickles and tomatoes.
Yet air-conditioning became Mom’s archenemy. Before we entered a truck stop for Sunday hamburgers, she bundled up as if facing a November blast. Regardless of where we sat, a deadly draft lurked among the little table juke boxes.
My husband’s family, though raised on “fresh country air” (their reference to hog farm aromas), prefer air-conditioning. Drive a country road with fresh air? Only when pigs fly — and take their fragrance elsewhere.
So, as often happens, we have a mixed marriage, fresh-air freak wed to air-conditioning addict. My husband views car windows as vision aids only and had the nerve to demand I quit my crack-the-window habit at night.
After a few decades, though, he gave up. “Only God can change your mind.”
Recently I was snoozing away when a sudden wet blast, like that of a garden hose, sent me flying to shut the window.
Lightning, like a camera’s flash, lit his smirk. “Maybe God’s trying to tell you something?”
I covered my head with damp pillow and bedclothes. I prayed my husband might change his stubborn attitude. That we would survive another season in the same space. …
So we can turn our mixed-marriage attention to the winter thermostat debate.
Which are you: fresh-air freak or air-conditioning addict?
Baby Boomers still like to think they’re brave. Creative. A generation like no other.
Anything but respectable.
During the ’60s, “respectable” reeked of The Establishment: Father Knows Best, the suburbs, hairspray, and Lawrence Welk.
My generation, on the other hand, was born to be wild. We listened to sounds of silence, but obviously didn’t like them, because we played our music loud.
Baby Boomers once believed “all you need is love.” However, we discovered the need for a little bread for mortgage payments. As Boomers age, the word “drugs” now turns thoughts toward AARP insurance plans rather than The Moody Blues.
During our hairy, youthful era, how could we have foreseen being buddies with barbers and beauticians?
That people would regard us as trustworthy. Even (ulp!) respectable.
Have we really sunk so low?
Oh, yeah. While I waited for my husband outside a convenience store, a flashy convertible with a monster dog and beefy driver pulled in. Most Gen Xers avoid eye contact, but he approached me with a big smile.
Whoa, my wrinkle cream must have worked magic.
“Ma’am, I need to go inside. My dog might jump out. Would you stay with her?” He disappeared before before I could say “yes,” “no” or “I have rabies.”
I decided to change wrinkle creams. If I lived.
PuppyZilla didn’t growl, but I estimated her mouthful of teeth just about spanned my neck.
Staring at me, she probably entertained similar thoughts.
I told her Lassie and Benji were my heroes. That I hated Cruella De Vil and would never, ever wear a Dalmatian coat.
PuppyZ shifted restlessly. What if she decided to raid a garbage can in, say, Alaska?
Maybe I should sit on her. I pictured my husband finding me astride a giant dog in somebody else’s convertible.
Fortunately, the driver returned. I waved a motherly goodbye as they drove away.
Only one incident? I wish.
The Boomer part of me rejoiced. Did I resemble a vagrant who needed to move on?
He shattered my hopes. “My daughter needs her clarinet. I’ll return in 15 minutes.”
In 15 minutes I could have procured free Christmas presents for the next 30 years.
Instead, I made sure nobody raided the cash register.
He had faith in me. What had I done to deserve such treatment?
Nothing. But he, like the Gen X guy and PuppyZ, trusted this Baby Boomer when they needed a helping hand.
But definitely groovy.
Well, that’s me. But how does the tag “respectable” hit you?
Where, instead of instructions to keep clean, don’t run, don’t touch it, climb it, or break it, you were urged to “get rid of some of that energy.”
You welcomed this strange, magical kingdom where pint-sized liberty prevailed.
My first playground was three skips across the road from the blue trailer where my parents, two siblings, and I lived. We never lacked playmates, as many other trailers encircling the playground also contained multiple children. Someone was always swinging, pushing the rusty merry-go-round, or up-and-downing on the seesaw. Mothers felt free to let us roam, supervising from yards or windows.
The school playground presented a panorama of new experiences: zooming down a slide that loomed, to my first-grade eyes, tall as the Empire State Building; learning softball rules and spending entire recesses arguing about them; turning 27 nonstop somersaults on the bars.
We played basketball, four-square, hopscotch, tetherball, Red Rover, and at least 17 versions of tag.
Imaginative children found more interesting things to do. One boy used a magnifying glass to set other kids’ coats afire.
How could my classmates and I abandon such a creative atmosphere?
Yet, by middle school, we did. My only venture onto a playground during high school involved my singing buds and I who, having climbed a jungle gym late one night, shared our talent with the neighborhood. Someone called the police.
Perhaps that brush with the law — or the elementary school memory of my smoking coat — discouraged any desire to visit a playground
I did not return until I told my little ones to “get rid of some of that energy.” They never did. I, on the other hand, grabbed children poised to jump off the curly slide, children bent on consuming gravel, and children who shinnied basketball goals and dunked themselves through hoops. For years, the playground served as my gym until I — with my children — once again left it behind.
Years later, our first grandchild reintroduced me. A baby swing swept her into giggly ecstasy. A springy horsie became her best friend. There still was that gravel-eating thing. But our shared delight was so real I hardly noticed my steps didn’t match her sprints.
Our spirits were the same age.
Thanks to my children and their cooperative spouses, playgrounds will remain on my horizons for some time. But even when grandchildren outgrow them, I can savor the life emanating from a nearby grade school. At recess, boys and girls run like hamsters escaped from cages.
There, on the playground, magic reigns once more.
What was your favorite playground activity?
More than 12 years ago, while eating out with our daughter and her husband, they informed us we would become grandparents the following spring.
I should have celebrated big time. After all, many grandma wannabes lock their children with spouses in guest rooms until they agree to produce offspring. I did not — not because I didn’t want to become a grandmother. I just planned to do it 100 years hence.
So I indulged in a few weeks of “But I don’t take Geritol.” Then I reacted like any grandma.
Now, after acquiring six grandchildren, I share the Ten Commandments for New Grandparents, based on what my husband and I have learned:
What commandments do you suggest make the new-grandparent list?
Once calendars change to December 1, airport authorities turn their attention from averting terrorists to halting the escape of Christmas program directors. Many seek asylum in remote jungles. The most desperate sign up for space shuttle flights.
Why this seasonal exodus? Until Advent, optimistic directors delude themselves that Christmas program rehearsals are going well. Yet choirs have forgotten their music every week. Sixth-grade clarinet players blow the wrong end.
With a turn of the calendar page to December, however, …
Christmas program directors run screaming from holly wreaths and The Salvation Army bell ringers.
Experts say victims of this psychosis, like Grandma, were obviously run over by reindeer. Which explains why anyone would become a Christmas program director in the first place.
The real drama begins when soloists and speaking roles are chosen. Most Nativity plays include only one Mary, and 49 hopeful candidates — backed by 49 equally hopeful mothers — eye the role. Choosing an Infant Jesus from the cute babies in a nursery is a task no Middle East negotiator should tackle.
Amidst controversy, enter the Advent flu. …
It never picks off a candy cane who speaks one line. No. This deadly illness wipes out leads and entire tenor sections. The Annunciation loses something when a nauseous-looking Gabriel delivers his lines holding a barf bag.
Standing defenseless before hacking, germy choirs, instrumentalists and casts, the courageous director battles a shower of viruses unmatched anywhere in the universe.
But by law, directors are not permitted to die during Advent. So, gulping remedies and popping pills, they face weeks of practices. It is said there are no atheists in foxholes. This also holds true during Christmas program dress rehearsals.
Finally, the Big Day arrives …
… and the cast stuns the director with an incredible performance. They were actually listening when she begged them to warm up horns, annunciate words and not pick their noses.
To be sure, no production escapes imperfection. The angels suffer from static cling. Joseph still doesn’t know how to sit while wearing a dress. And as Wise Men and Shepherds adore the Baby, a borrowed donkey leaves offerings on the hay-strewn floor.
But flawed performances only remind leaders that the original event took place with no rehearsals, except in the Mind of God. And as weary directors everywhere breathe a deep sigh of relief and shelve Christmas music until next August, no one needs to tell them Christmas miracles still happen today.