When I was little, one of my prized possessions was a Japanese fan, the kind you could snap closed with a flick of your wrist and spread open with your fingers, gently, so the paper wouldn’t tear. It was pale gray with hand-painted, pink-and-white blossomed cherry trees and gilt edging. I don’t know what ever became of it, but I could have used it this past week.
It was really, really hot here in Massachusetts.
So hot (’90s-muggy-record-breaking-air-quality-alert-hot) that our neighbor’s three dogs were outside, barking, at 12:30 in the morning because it had finally cooled down enough for them to do their business, and I’m sure she assumed that everyone else had their windows closed and air conditioning on and wouldn’t be disturbed.
So hot that our lawn must have grown three inches, one for each day of the heat wave, not unlike the corn that grew so rapidly on hot, humid days near my home in Central Illinois years ago that you could actually hear the stalks squeaking as they reached for the sun.
So hot that I, perpetually cold, broke into a sweat just sitting at my computer in my converted-porch home office, finally tried out our new heat pumps on their dehumidify cycle—and was grateful, so grateful for the instant relief.
One weekend ago, everyone was shivering and complaining that their heat was turned off and sweaters packed away. Five days and 50 additional degrees later, it felt like deep summer, already.
Climate change, anyone?
I love heat. It makes my hands and feet very happy. But there’s heat, and then there’s heat. My perfect weather is sunny, mid-’80s, low humidity, with a light breeze. High ’90s, with air so thick it clings to your lungs, is too much, even for me.
My annual summer dilemma usually surfaces mid-July, when we get a stretch of this kind of stifling weather and I can no longer make due with just open windows and ceiling fans. Air conditioning, which we have studiously avoided for years because of my Raynaud’s, then becomes a necessary evil—too cold to tolerate for more than about a half hour, but impossible for me to concentrate, without.
Our new heat pumps provide a miraculous compromise. I can set the kitchen on dehumidify, and it refreshes the entire first floor during the hottest part of the day. Or just flip on the pump in my office for a half-hour and then shut it off again as I enjoy the residual coolness. If it gets really bad outside, there’s an AC setting, too, but I haven’t broken down to try it, yet. We’ll be paying off the interest-free loan for the next seven years, but well worth the investment to have year-round, personalized, energy-efficient climate options in every room of the house.
Not so when I leave home, though. Whenever I enter and exit a commercial building in the summer, it’s as if I’m going between this past week’s two weather extremes—from the equator to the arctic, and back again. I always carry a sweater and my wrist warmers wherever I go, so I can quickly adjust layers to the interior climate change.
This makes dressing for special summer events a major challenge. This past Saturday, we had a family bar mitzvah to attend. What to wear? I remembered the temple from the last time we were there, a few years ago for the older sister’s bat mitzvah, as icy cold. But it was in the mid-‘90s, for crying out loud! Just once, just once, I wanted to wear a summer dresses without a bulky cover-up.
I decided on a sleeveless rayon knit—lightweight, but warm—with a cotton crocheted sweater. I brought along a rayon shawl and a pair of my fleece wrist warmers, just in case. Sure enough, as we entered the lobby, I could feel my fingers chilling. On with the wrist warmers, but, fortunately, no need for the shawl. As the AC cycled throughout the service, I countered by slipping my wrist warmers on and off, as needed.
I was expecting a similar experience at the reception, held at another location. But to my astonishment, the event space was—heaven forbid—comfortable.
So comfortable that I could actually take off my sweater and wrist warmers and enjoy the next few hours with family and friends in a sleeveless dress. I cannot remember the last time this happened. It must have been back in the 1960’s when central air was still a luxury.
Maybe this phenomenon occurred because businesses are finally starting to realize that you save money if you don’t crank the AC down to 65, which most people in their right minds and bodies can’t tolerate, anyway, for more than about 15 minutes.
Or maybe it was because their central air was malfunctioning.
Anyway, I was happy. Who knows? As the world gets hotter and we finally learn, the hard way, that we can’t suck all the fossil fuels out of our planet and pump CO2 into the atmosphere without dire consequences of extreme weather patterns, we’re all going to have to adjust, one way or another.
For my own part, I’d much rather wear a sleeveless dress and carry a beautiful Japanese paper fan to a summer celebration—because everyone finally agrees to keep the AC at 78 or even turn it off and open some windows if there’s a breeze—than tote a sweater, a shawl and a pair of fleece wrist warmers in a 90-degree heat wave.
Evelyn Herwitz blogs weekly about living fully with chronic disease, the inside of baseballs, turtles and frogs, J.S. Bach, the meaning of life and whatever else she happens to be thinking about at livingwithscleroderma.com.