….or “We Remember” how, we tried to keep cool, in the 1940s and 1950s,when we didn’t have air-conditioning and the temperatures soared.
During one of our many reminiscing conversations, Pat and I talked at length about what it was like in our early days, growing up when the temperatures were in the 80s and 90s and air-conditioning did not exist.
When we were growing up, most of the houses in town had tin roofs that intensified the heat and made the upstairs like an oven in the summer. To try to stay cool, we kept all of the windows open hoping that an occasional cool breeze or an evening thunder storm would provide us with some relief. Electric fans were constantly utilized to provide an artificial breeze and people carried collapsible hand fans which they used in church and at public functions to try and stay cool by moving some air around their head and faces.
The fans and open windows really provided little relief from the summer heat causing some of us to sleep outside or seek other means to cool off.The YMCA and YWCA in town both had indoor pools that we occasionally used to cool off. However, those pools in hot, steamy rooms that reaped of chlorine were not really that refreshing. Instead, we often tried to cool off at home with small portable, backyard wading pools or by simply turning on and standing under the garden hoses. Often a whole gang of neighborhood kids would get together and play games and using a hose to squirt each other.
One of the kids in our neighborhood had access to a tool that firemen used to open and turn on fire hydrants. Many a hot afternoon, all of the local kids would gather on a street corner to play under an open fire hydrant. Kids living close to public squares or parks often played on hot days in the ornamental pools and fountains.
Others of us would go swimming in the nearby Schuykill River which was filled with dirty, black silt that was carried downstream from the many coal mines up river or we swam in Stoney Creek which was usually very muddy and often filled with agriculture run off. One summer a group of us dammed up a small stream and built our own swimming hole a short distance from our homes. Each summer one or two kids would drown swimming in one of these swimming holes or in the local river or creeks. This would usually scare us enough to temporarily limit our swimming in the local streams
After the war (WW II) when people had cars, access to gas and more leisure time, a number of public swimming facilities began opening in our area. Many an afternoon, my mother would gather the family and some of the neighborhood kids and take us to Fischer’s Pool outside of Lansdale. Other afternoons my parents and some of her friends would gather up their families and we would all go to rustic Montgomery County Park on a dammed up portion of the Perkiomin Creek, about 45 minutes from home, for an early evening picnic. While the adults chatted, and prepared the picnic including building a wood fire to cook hot dogs and burgers, the kids would all go swimming in the park’s artificial lake. In 1956, as I’ll comment on in a subsequent post, Pat and I went on our first date to this same park
When my friends and I started to drive, we took over the driving whenever we could get a car and gas money. This made our swimming excursions more frequent and free of parental oversight – more fun.
By the mid-fifties, air conditioning was becoming more available and keeping cool during the “Dog Days of Summer” became less of a challenge. However, “We Remember” what is was like keeping cool before air conditioning.
August 16 , 2016
Based on the joint recollections of Pat & Frank Fleming
Recorded by Frank Fleming and published