Facing more days of near-triple-digit temperatures causes us to look back at the hot summers in our memory.
In 1990, N&O columnist Dennis Rogers reminded us how we dealt with summer in the days before air conditioning.
There was a time when not everyone had air conditioning. As late as 1948, when air conditioning really began to take off, only 74,000 air conditioners were sold. The rest of us sweated and didn't think about it. It was summer and it was supposed to be hot.
The difference was acclimation. It got warmer as spring went on and we got used to the heat slowly, shedding clothes and using more water. We learned to cope with heat as the heat got hotter.
Our baths got cooler. We went swimming in creeks and mill ponds at the end of the tobacco rows. We'd ice down melons for the afternoon break and soak our shirts in creek water and let the evaporation cool us down. We wore wide-brimmed straw hats that shaded our heads.
We didn't cut down every tree in sight to build our houses and used the shade to help keep them cool. We used a lot of fans: window fans, attic fans, oscillating fans that went with us from room to room and cardboard fans for revivals and funerals.
Windows opened wide. When the early evening came, we didn't sit inside a sealed-up house that had been baking in the sun all day. We opted for the front porch, where we talked to neighbors or listened to the Brooklyn Dodgers on the radio while the kids played "Red Light" or "Red Rover" or "May I?" We stayed outside until the house cooled down enough to go to sleep.
We filled washtubs with cool water and played in them. We had water hose fights. Ceilings were high and airy. We had awnings. We wore more summery clothes, including boaters and seersucker suits for men, and women did carry parasols. We surrendered to summer. -- The News & Observer 8/9/1990
In later columns, Dennis praised summer suppers "sliced tomatoes, deviled eggs and potato salad, which is all you should eat in August, anyway" and warned against the deadly qualities of that summer staple, mayonnaise.
It will be the Duke's brand, for which native Southerners pause each summer to pay homage to Mrs. Eugenia Duke of Greenville, S.C. It was she who first whipped up the mayo of the mill towns. And it's kosher.
The only reason native Southerners aren't dropping like flies by Mother's Day is that we apparently develop antibodies to protect us from summer's mayonnaise mayhem. It is the same thing you find Up Nawth when fans take off their shirts at Green Bay football games in January. There, the secret is bratwurst. Or maybe beer. -- The News & Observer 6/8/2005
A summer supper shared by friends and family at the Braswell Plantation near Rocky Mount, September 1944. Photo courtesy of the NC State Archives.