Remember the “good old days?” I do, and they weren’t all that good. Like most folks in Fort Worth in 1956, no one had air conditioning in their homes. At best, a few folks had a “swamp cooler” that might fill a room with coolish-wet air. It was a miserable existence, but everyone was miserable, so we didn’t know of anything better.
From May until October, I can’t remember sleeping under anything but a sheet, if that. It was too darn hot. My mother would spray water on me with a squirt bottle, but that didn’t put a dent in my suffering. Bless its heart, the old attic fan pulled in what air it could through the open windows, but there was little more than a slight breeze flowing over me. Like most in our neighborhood, our family accepted that we would be hot for five months of the year. That all changed in June of 1956.
I bicycled home from a day of playing pick-up baseball at the Forest Park diamonds and found a grey, pink, and white Nash Rambler station wagon in our driveway. My father, the professional skinflint, had finally had enough of used cars and repair bills and bought the family a “brand new car.”
He was the proud Papa and eagerly gave us a tour of our newest member of the family. He spoke as if the machine was birthed that morning and possessed human characteristics. At any moment, I thought he was going to pass out cigars. He referred to it as “she.” My mother said it looked more like a “Mr. Fred” to her and didn’t care much for the tri-tone paint, which was Dove grey with pink sides and a white top sporting a massive chrome luggage rack. Mother overlooked the colors because “Fred” had factory “air conditioning” and a fold-down back seat that turned into a bed, perfect for my sister and me for traveling. A large metal dashboard, with numerous instruments, a radio, and a clock, was guaranteed to smash your face flat and remove your teeth if a sudden stop was required, and not a seat belt one. The automatic transmission, roll-down back window, and genuine imported naugahyde upholstery gave it that touch of elegance and convenience everyone in the 50s wished for. I soon found out that summer sun-heated naugahyde could easily burn, blister and remove the skin from my legs and butt.
I must admit, it was a pleasure riding around town in an air-conditioned car. Regular folks, baking to a crisp in their Chevy or Ford, would stare at us as if we were royalty. The car windows rolled up, ice-cold air blowing our hair and swirling the heavy cloud of cigarette smoke through the car; it was heaven. At that point, I was impressed with my station in life, all because of air-conditioning.
On a hot July night designed by the devil, my father woke the family, and we all marched to “Mr. Fred.” The engine was running, the backseat bed was made up, and the car was like a meat locker inside. My parents slept in the fold-back front seat, and my sister and I were in the back. We all slept like a dream, and for many nights thereafter, if the heat was unbearable, we took cooling refuge in that Nash Rambler. Life was good, all because of an air-conditioned car.
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