Humidity

One thing about living in the Deep South is that you have to make your peace with humidity. It does no good to dread it or complain about it. You just take it like sour medicine and move on.

On a humid day down here, a man can almost suffocate right out in the open, even without any restrictions in his airway. When you’re breathing air that is heavy with around 87% moisture, your lungs have to work overtime to separate the O² from the H²O. Fish have gills. We got nothing.

I grew up in a world without air conditioning and with a Dad who was a practical man raised out of the Great Depression. Other people had central air. Why not us? I’ll tell you why. I’ll tell you what he told us.

“I’ve lived this long without it. I don’t speck you’ll die without it either.”

He used that sort of reasoning for a lot of things. Things he considered extravagant. Color TV, for example. Riding mowers. County water. Stereos. He didn’t need it. That settled it. End of story. It took him a long time to compromise on things based on that principle.

Our answer to AC was the attic fan. I believe that this fan was actually a prop off of a Mooney M20 Turbo designed to cruise at an altitude of 20,000 feet at 240 knots. It was mounted in the ceiling just outside my bedroom door. You fire it up and it felt like you could fly to the west coast in about 10 minutes.

Because it sucked air into the house, we only ran it at night after things had cooled down to 78ᵒ outside. A window had to be open somewhere to keep the house from getting sucked inward and collapsing like a house of cards.

“Make sure you have a window open before you turn on that fan.”

I tried it once with all the windows and doors closed when nobody else was home. I was a rebel at 14. I waited for glass to break, but nothing terrible happened.

The bad thing about the attic fan was that while it brought in cooler air, it also brought the humidity in with it. You get up in the morning and the plaster walls and tile floors would feel a little damp.

I remember lying in bed on summer nights. The window cranked open. The curtains flapping inward, almost horizontal in the draw from the fan. Cows bellowing in the distance. The beagles in the pen out back shuffling around all nervous from the sound of the Mooney M20 flying through the house all night long.

I’d lay there in my skivvies trying not to stick to the sheets. No cover. Just lying there out in the open waiting for things to cool off. Sometime in the night I’d finally pull the flat sheet up over my shoulders. Get up in the morning and even though it was a clear day, not a cloud in the sky, water was beaded up and dripping all over the window screen. That’s what a good humid night can do.

If you live with humidity you live with things like mildew, soggy bread, and wet underwear right out of the drawer. You value things like a good oscillating fan. Hand held funeral home fans. Any fan.

Mama had a drum fan that kinda looked like an ottoman, but without the cushion on top. It was probably 30” in diameter and stood about the height of a sitting stool. We didn’t run the attic fan during the day, but the drum fan could run all day long. It sat mostly in her sewing room where she worked on dresses and suits and pillows for other folks.

I wish I had one of those fans even now. The blades were parallel to the floor and blew air upward against a cone that pointed down from under the seat. That made the air flow out in all directions, 360ᵒ around the room.

I loved to talk into the fan and hear my voice come out all wobbly, like my vocal chords were on a vibrator. My favorite game was to tear off small pieces of paper, probably from the Sears Roebuck catalogue, hold them under the fan and let go. That piece of paper would ping and pop up through the blades and go flying across the room.

“You be careful with that. You’re gonna cut a finger off.” Mothers think like that.

Dad tried to make me believe that the humidity was good for me. “Helps you sweat out the bad stuff.” By the time the water from your pours mixes with the water in the air, and you make two rounds with the push mower, you might as well have jumped in the lake.

Even your drawers are wet up to your you-know-whats. When it comes time to change clothes, you don’t take them off, you peel them off and ring them out and hang them on the side of the tub. If you put them straight in the dirty clothes hamper, things mildew and stink like a wet dog. Mama would have something to say about that.

I went to El Paso, Texas one time. It’s one of those places where folks say things like, “Yeah it’s blistering hot, but it’s a dry heat, you know. I can handle a dry heat.” It was summer and it was hotter than the asphalt in July. A few 3-digit days in the sun out there and you get a whole new appreciation for sweat, because out there sweat is prohibited. I guess you do sweat, but without the humidity nothing sticks. It all evaporates.

The men who used to help us bale hay in the summers always wore long sleeve thermal undershirts. I thought they were nuts. But they had a wisdom that I had not yet learned. Orange Brooks would say, “Keeps ya nice and cool wit’ all dat sweat in yor shirt.”

I’m writing this to help you get ready for summer. June, July and August are staring us down. There was already one day last week when, as I walked out of my nice air conditioned house, the humidity attacked me before I could get off the kitchen porch. You just feel it instantly and you know that summer is about to fall upon you.

What this means is that for the next 3 months I can’t really dry off after a shower. The wet feeling comes back no matter how many towels I use. My lunch sandwiches will be a little more soggy than usual. My glasses will fog up the instant I step through the door of any air conditioned building. I’ll gasp in the mornings when I walk out the door and think about moving out to where they have a dry heat. The dog will pant and drool over everything I own.

What I fear most is that the AC will break down on a Friday night at 10PM. No hope of a service call until Monday. When we built our house, I wanted an attic fan for just such an emergency, but my wife wouldn’t hear of it. “It’ll bring in too much moisture.”

Of course it will. We live in the South, where mosquitos swim instead of fly. And some well-intended but misguided idiot will say, “If it wasn’t for this lousy humidity, it’d be a nice day.”

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