Even on the hottest nights of the summer, my father (the Big Guy) knew how
to make our house ice cold.
We lived in a modest two-story home typical of the '60s and '70s red
brick on the bottom, white aluminum siding on the top. There were four bedrooms
upstairs and a master bedroom downstairs (my parent's room, which we added
onto the back of our house in 1972).
Only one house in our neighborhood had air conditioning back then. It was
locked up tighter than Fort Knox.
Most houses were wide open all summer, though. This allowed the outside
sounds to come in and the inside sounds to go out.
I woke every morning to the sound of birds chirping, a dewy chill in the
air. I'd hear sausage sizzling in a neighbor's kitchen. A screen door slamming,
a car starting, a father slumbering off to work.
The afternoons were quiet the older kids went on bike hikes or swimming
at the community pool but as evening arrived, the sounds came alive again.
At dinner time, kids were called home through a variety of shouts, chants,
bells and horns. Pork and chicken sizzled on grills. Families ate and talked on
As darkness fell, a range of new sounds echoed throughout the neighborhood:
a dog barking; a motorcycle downshifting on some faraway hill; Bob Prince and
Nellie King broadcasting Pirates games on the radio; a baby crying; a couple
And window fans humming.
The Big Guy was a master at driving the hot, stale air from our house. He
installed an industrial fan in the attic that sucked the hot air upwards and
pumped it through a roof vent. Then he put a window fan in the downstairs
bedroom to pull cool air inside.
It took him years to perfect his method, but by closing some windows and
doors and adjusting others to varying degrees of openness, he tuned our house
like a fine violin. He could drive down the temperature 15 degrees or more in a
matter of minutes.
I remember coming home on summer nights when I was in college. I'd open the
front door and be greeted by a burst of cool air. Sometimes the Big Guy would
be in the kitchen, leaning on the countertop with his elbows as he ate his
favorite snack peanut butter crackers and ice-cold milk.
He'd hand me the peanut-butter-smeared knife and I'd spread it on a couple
of crackers. As we chomped away, we'd mumble through a conversation about
college or the Pirates or a variety of other conversations sons had with their
dads on such nights.
Other times, the Big Guy and mother would be lying in bed in the back room,
the lights off, the television light flickering as Johnny Carson delivered
his monologue, the window fan humming. We'd chat for a spell before I headed up
I went to the hardware store to buy a window fan recently. I put it in my
bedroom window and have been trying different adjustments to maximize the
coolness in my place. Its sound transports me to a time and a place that I've been
longing for lately.
It reminds me of the constant presence of the Big Guy, who spent years
tweaking and perfecting the world to make things better for his kids. He was an
old-school dad. He lacked skill at articulating his love, but he was a master
at showing it.
I know now how profound his presence was. It established order where chaos
and emptiness would have been. It permeated every nook and cranny of our home
and our lives. It is in me still it guides me still.
That's why I shut off the air conditioning most summer nights and run the
window fan instead. It's wobbling hum fills me with peacefulness and calm.
It reminds me how blessed I was to have the Big Guy for a dad.