Hot Pittsburgh Summers
by Regis Boff
Children in the 1950’s were the first ever to have happy childhoods. No kid had had a very good time in that American century until then, what with the World Wars, The Great Depression, and the child labor practices.
My dad was a curious amalgamation of this century’s circumstance. He was born in 1900. He was too young for World War I and too old for World War II. He lived through the Great Depression. The men who lived through these upheavals feared the future, any future.
I lived from two to twelve years old in this decade. I feared polio, my nasty neighbor who was two years older than me and a severe psychotic, the atomic bomb and boners in class that everyone could see. That was about it unless you counted pimples.
I also dreaded my father’s root beer that he brewed in giant metal garbage cans in our cellar. He would bottle it and command we drink it instead of “pop.” My friends would not come to my house because my father would chase them around with the shit.
When my dad decided to solve problems, he did so in large ways. Summers in the suburbs of Pittsburgh would get very hot. A camera shot of our living room could have replaced front covers for The National Geographic Magazine except we were white. My family moved slowly around in near faint, half-naked in light rags fighting the heat.
My father bought us a fan for the living room. Telescoped, its maximum height was six feet tall, and the blades were at least five feet in diameter. It filled the entire corner. He wedged it behind a chair that no one ever sat in because it did not face the TV. The blades were scrap WWII bomber blades from someone else’s “big” idea.
It rotated slowly around the room like a ghoul in the grade B horror movies of the time. You could feel the apprehension in your testicles as it zeroed in on you. It had a removable screen that shielded you from amputations. The first time my dad turned it on, the suction from behind the fan dragged an entire wall of curtains to it which toppled the behemoth and sent my dad vaulting for the power cord.
I got more warnings about this fan than about anything else during my childhood. ” Do not stick anything through the screens,” he warned. There was nothing that fit that I did not try. The best were sharpened pencils. “Don’t ever run it without the screen on.” Only my being a Methodist prevented me from tossing our pet hamster into it.
On full throttle, this machine made it difficult to walk into the room and nearly impossible to hear the television. The dog whined constantly when it was on.
Within three seconds, it dropped the temperature in the room by forty degrees. On Saturdays, my mother would rig the clothes line from the outside, into the living room, using the fan to dry our laundry. On the very rare occasion, we washed the dog, he would be leashed, in near shock, close to the angled fan to dry him. If someone’s food was too hot they would hold it to the fan. We ran down from the bath to air dry in it. My dad set off a flurry of fan purchases that summer. Mr dad was a card.