Saturday, August 18, 2007

Light in August?

Many years ago on a warm summer night, famed Southern novelist William Faulkner was sitting on the porch with his wife Estelle when she commented on how light in the South during the month of August seemed to exhibit a most peculiar quality. Faulkner liked this idea and soon renamed the novel he was writing from its working title of Dark House to Light in August. Perhaps you have that book on your shelves now.

Certainly, here in the South we have had light in August this year. Light, and heat...extreme heat. I have lived in Atlanta for most of 25 years, and I have yet to see a summer with such protracted high temperatures. We were driving a car without air conditioning for a few days during the hottest of the weeks, and it was practically unbearable.

Yet I recall as a child in Memphis that we did not have A/C everywhere. In fact, our schools were not air conditioned. We had these tall chrome-plated fans that pushed the hot air around our high-ceilinged classrooms, while dark green shades would be pulled down during the day to reduce the sun's glare and heat. At the same time, school officials deemed it distasteful to allow young men to wear shorts at school (girls could, but they had to be "culottes"). Still, I don't recall being particularly hot during the day, which says something about how we've acclimated to climate control over the years.

Air conditioning is often credited with spurring at least part of the growth in the Sun Belt in recent years. Indeed, if you have to work over a weekend in a modern office building without A/C, you will soon see how these buildings could never have been built in this part of the country without it...the air becomes stale in short order. Of course, we could open windows in the "old days", and that helped to some degree. Nowadays, if you live south of the Mason-Dixon line, it is hard to imagine living without "air" during the summer months.

But the temperatures appear to be abating -- today's forecast calls for a high of only 98, and that's not bad. One day last week when I headed home from work, the car thermometer registered 111. Yes, it's definitely cooling off.