There’s nothing like those big, clear sky, still-heavy with heat Texas evenings, that make me think of a swamp cooler.
Now called evaporative coolers, they were almost unheard of a few years ago as they pretty much became extinct, but as electric costs rose, they have recently made a comeback. Back in the day, they were known as swamp coolers and my grandmother had one. As a small girl, I would sit next to her on the sofa and enjoy the moist, cold air and the smell of wet straw, along with Grandma Lola’s wisdom, effervescent personality and quick humor.
No matter that there was no one my own age around, no matter that we lived in a tiny town where most of the entertainment involved going to the grocery store. There was a certain sort of solace there. Grandma Lola told me once that she was sure that the End of Days were at hand because she ran her air conditioner in December. Maybe she just wasn’t thinking at the time how crazy the Texas climate can be.
She and I sat, like two peas in a pod in front of that cooler on many such evenings in Tiny Town Texas. She told me stories of growing up and life in general. What a time line my grandmother had, born in 1900, she had been alive during both Roosevelts, two World Wars, the Wright Brothers, the San Francisco Earthquake, Model Ts (she said only doctors had them in her town) the stock market crash, the racial and social upheaval of the 1960s, Kennedy, Vietnam, Watergate and more… She received a card from President Clinton on her 100th birthday.
In between Lola getting up to accomplish a quick chore here and there, I would address the swamp cooler myself, hair flyin’, face chillin’. I found, much to my delight, that speaking into the cooler altered my voice in a suave, technological way, long before techno-rock. I was flat amazed at what the swamp cooler could do with the word “Mississippi.”
The years went by, I grew older and taller, she grew shorter and more fragile. Our swamp cooler days had long been replaced by not only their extinction, but also by grandmother’s choice for “refrigerated air.” The only problem with the new air system was that sitting on the sofa right in front of it was way too cold for Lola, so she had to bundle up in a sweater and sometimes gloves. Now those days too are long gone and I find myself craving the smell of wet straw in the summer, and good company – the lovely lady who nurtured my soul and sparked my creativity then sent me along my own time line in this world.