If it got hot, you tried to escape the heat and homes were one of the places where heat was most effectively trapped. The first level of defense was the porch. If you were lucky, your porch got a breeze in the evening. It was not unusual for neighbors to drop by to talk and enjoy a glass of lemonade or iced tea in the evening when it was cool.
You could sit on the porch and dream about your summer vacation. My mother always took two weeks and we went mostly to the beach with as many neices as she could fit in the old Ford. The beach in the summer was a place to enjoy cool ocean breezes not to hole up in a MacMansion where you only venture out for a few hours a day. Of course we did not have to worry about a MacMansion, we were always thrilled with the most basic of cottages. When we did not go to the beach, we wandered the mountains of North Carolina. You do not get hot on Grandfather Mountain or Mount Mitchell.
Our cottages never had air conditioning. I was in high school before I can remember a vacation with air conditioning other than the natural breezes of the mountains or the oceans.
At the beach, the ocean water kept us cool. I was remined of that as I was standing in the surf on May 6, 2014. It was a hot day and we had driven the fifteen minutes over from our home on the mainland by the White Oak River. We made the short drive because we wanted to cool off and wanted to do it without turning on our heat pumps. Enjoying a hour or two on the beach, gave the sea breezes time to kick in and start cooling our home.
I cannot even remember us having a television in our cottages. We went to the beach to enjoy the beach, meet new people, and to enjoy being away from what we did all the time. In the fifties television had yet to get its tenacles around us. The squawky black and white box was no match for our imagination and the forts that we built in the fields and woods. The idea of taking stuff to the beach so we could do the same thing we did at home would have been totally foreign.
Most of the summer we used the water to cool off. Many times I can remember tagging along with my female cousins as they sought out a pool with cool water. Sometimes we had nothing more than the woods to keep us cool.
It is surprisingly cool in the deep woods. There is nothing quite like wandering in some old growth Southern woods where the sun never really penetrates the canopy. There you will find wonderful cool brooks to wade and chase lizards. When we were in the woods, we were in a different world than you found in our yards at home. However, lots of families had small wading pools and we were not above squirting each other with the hose to cool off or having a battle with water pistols.
Sunday afternoons, we would visit family and friends to gather under shade trees. We would eat homemade ice cream and watermelon. The adults sat in chairs, the really young on blankets. If you were old enjoy to run around, that is what you did. You might luck out and get a spot at a picnic table. Being inside was not an option. Most houses stay very warm until the sun was long gone and the attic fans had time to pull in come cool air.
Amazingly people also went to movie theaters to get away from the heat. There were not big malls, but there were theaters where you could escape the heat.
While computer technology has isolated us and minimized true personal interactions, I suspect the modern convenience of the heat pump has also cost us dearly. Heat was a socializing part of life in the South. Heat drove us to gather in cool spots around community swimming pools, at beaches and in the shade along the Blue Ridge Parkway.
The second date with my wife to be in 1973 was a trip to escape the early June heat of summer in Mount Airy, North Carolina. A quick trip up the road to the Blue Ridge Parkway and its mountains was a way to shed twenty degrees of Piedmont heat.
One of the most magic summers I ever spent was alternating between Ocracoke Island and sheltered campgrounds deep in the North Carolina mountains. My old lime green Bronco did not even have air conditioning, but there is nothing like waking up in a tent on the beach at Ocracoke or by a cool lake high in the mountains. I don't ever remember being hot or lonely when camping.
I met people by being outside. I am pleased that I still find a few people who enjoy being outside like I do. I feel sorry for those who for whatever reason are not able to venture out into our sometimes hot but glorious world.