Air Conditioning the Great Outdoors


It was the first day of summer, in the upper nineties with high humidity, and Dad had come home early from work unexpectantly. It could only mean one thing; he was gonna get mad and start yelling. Guess that’s really two things, but they happened every time he came home early during the summer. And if asked, Dad would tell you loudly, air conditioning the outside was something us kids were really good at.

I’ll explain, but be forewarned, Dear Reader. This story may bring back hot, uncomfortable memories from your childhood — if you too grew up with a central hallway fan as the only means of cooling.

During those seven magical years we spent growing up at 110 Flamingo Street, dealing with the heat in our house wasn’t magical at all. It wasn’t that Dad built the house without air-conditioning. The discomfort of our hot house had to do with the fact he didn’t want to run it.

Dad thought the whole house fan he’d installed in the main hallway would cool off the entire house. And he was right during March, April, and most of May, but for the rest of the summer, he wasn’t.

We tried telling him that cracking windows on the far side of the house only allowed the fan to pull in hot, humid air from the outside and disperse it to every room on the inside. It did nothing to cool us or the house off.

He did finally cut on the air conditioning, but it wasn’t because of anything we had said. He cut it on because of what Mom said.

By the middle of June, Mom had had enough, and the air conditioning was finally turned on. And that’s when Dad started yelling again. Not at Mom, but at us kids.

Seems while growing up back on Flamingo, one of us was always trying to air condition the outside. We must’ve gone out and in our back door a thousand times while we lived on Flamingo, and each time, one of us left the door open. At least that’s what Dad said: “I’ve told you kids a thousand times to keep doors closed. I’m not paying to air condition the outside!”

Well, apparently he was. This is not something you want to point out to your dad. If you do, trust me, he’ll get really mad. But not nearly as mad as when he has to pay to get his whole house fan repaired due to being clogged by about a hundred paper airplanes.

Warning to all Young Readers, from my experience, if you have a whole house fan, any of the following I’m about to describe will cause three things to happen. First, the fan will stop running. Second, your dad will get very loud and very mad. And third, your mom will have to switch on the air conditioning.

Standing under the whole house fan while it’s running to watch your brother’s hair stand on end is fine. Seeing if the fan will suck up The Sister’s long blonde hair is not. Watching the fan turned on low trying to suck up a skein of yarn is okay. But turning the fan on high to see what happens and then watching as it sucks up the entire ball of yarn up into the attic isn’t. When it does, the fan will clog, stop working, Dad will get mad, and Mom will switch on the air conditioning.

Keep all squirt gun battles far away from the house fan while it’s running. Trust me, streams of water are easier to suck up into a whole house fan than yarn. The water will short out the fan, Dad will get mad, and Mom will have to switch on the air conditioning.

Finally, having paper airplanes do tricks while flying under the fan is easy. Keeping them from being sucked up, eventually clogging the motor, and causing a “small” fire in the attic isn’t. When the fan stops working, Dad gets really mad, Mom makes him permanently board up and cover the fan, then switches on the air conditioning.

The next year we moved away from Flamingo and into a house with air conditioning and no whole house fan. That was over fifty-five years ago, and I thought I would never hear anyone ever say again, “Please, keep the doors closed. I’m not paying to air condition the outside!” But I was wrong.

Trying to air condition the outside must be an inherited trait because our two grandchildren are currently trying to do the very same thing we did back on Flamingo. But this time Dad wasn’t the one saying, “Please, keep the doors closed! I’m not paying to air condition the outside!” It was me. And from the look at our first summer electric bill, I guess we really are.

Here’s wishing all those fathe’s out there a happy Father’s Day with the family this weekend. And if, during your special day, the kids keep leaving the door open while running in and out, here’s a suggestion — don’t fight it.

Trust me, yelling at kids to keep the door closed didn’t work for my dad, hasn’t worked for me, and probably won’t work for you.

Instead of getting mad, pull up a lounge chair on the deck, place it next to the constantly open door … and just enjoy air conditioning the great outdoors.

[Rick Ryckeley has been writing stories since 2001.]