Sweating builds character

August 27, 2002|By Ann Egerton

WHILE I was growing up in the 1940s and '50s, I always heard horrendous deep-snow-and-freezing-temperatures stories from my parents about the winters of their childhoods.

They both grew up in Baltimore, not Minneapolis, but since both were a bit dramatic they still made the stories quite impressive and conveyed to me that, with a few exceptions, the winters of my youth were pretty balmy compared with theirs.

Real winter raged into Maryland in the 1970s to the degree that the Chesapeake Bay was frozen over a few times, so I couldn't upstage my children with hyperbolic talk of my early winters. (Upstaging your children with tales of youthful suffering can give you an aura of exemplary moral strength, even if it's mostly talk.)

Present day global warming notwithstanding, the summers of my youth in Baltimore were flat out sweltering, with many hot, rainless days to parch our lawns and gardens, and I learned early about Maryland drought, heat and humidity. I related this to my 7-year-old granddaughter one recent sultry day and threw in another salient fact: that I grew up with no air conditioning. So did her father and aunt, but our attic fan was almost as good, if you could stand the noise.

"No air conditioning? Oh, that's awful!" she exclaimed with a horrified expression.

I told her how my mother closed the windows and drew the curtains during the day in an effort to keep things cool, and how we all opened the windows in the evening and hoped the screens would keep out the mosquitoes. Just in case, I slept with a citronella-doused handkerchief over my bed. (Now I suppose I'll have to explain what citronella is to my granddaughter.)

I remember lying in bed in front of the fan, later replaced by a more high-tech one that almost rotated. I listened to it rattle with metronomic rhythm and then heard the high-pitched whir of a mosquito as it zapped my cheek or neck, and I slapped at it with infrequent success.

My granddaughter has been deprived of the character-building experiences of being fricasseed and bitten during Maryland summers. Just wait until I tell her we didn't have a television until I was 10.

Ann Egerton is a free-lance writer who lives in Baltimore City.

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