Savior of the South

Story by Johnny Sain

Arkansas summers are notoriously fierce with a brutal one-two punch of extreme humidity (we get Gulf of Mexico moisture without the pleasures of a beach) and scorching temperatures.

But as a lifelong Arky, I was still 15 years old before we had air conditioning in the house. As a result, running around outside, baked and boiled, was no problem for me as a kid. Looking back, I think trying to sleep at night was the hardest thing. There were no cool spots to be found. Heck, there were barely any dry spots. But we managed with box fans in bedroom windows until Dad sprang for an attic fan. The big attic fan really just sucked more viscous air into the house. But at least the air was moving faster.

Central air conditioning was installed as the last phase of a modest remodel of our home. And, oh, do I remember that glorious day it came to be. I experienced pure elation coming home on that first afternoon after my summer job of mowing and sweeping gas station parking lots. I walked in and immediately sprawled out on the cool backroom floor. I couldn’t believe we finally had air conditioning in our home. And even back then I recall making a mental note to never take it for granted.

But I did.

For the rest of my life, I’ve set the thermostat and forgot about it. The drone of AC units has been the background noise of every summer since, and I’ve rarely thought a thing about it except when it stops working. Living in perpetual 72 degrees (or my preferred 69 degrees) Fahrenheit inside has become one of the thousands of things I’ve taken for granted.

But this past winter we moved into a smaller home with no central air. The little house has a tiny window unit. You have to make a conscious decision — after the dampness envelopes your body like warm fog, after your clothes start sticking, after the mugginess settles into every piece of furniture — that you’ve had enough. It’s time to shut the windows and turn on the fresh air.

The first time I turned that dial this summer, the minuscule effort jogged some huge memories for me. It also scraped away some of that ingrained sense of entitlement that’s crusted my soul through the years.

Here in the most grueling days of another Arkansas summer, I am deeply and humbly grateful for the privilege of turning a knob to ensure something so trivial, so utterly meaningless as my personal comfort.