Friday, June 1, 2007
The Hoot Owl and Air Conditioning
I’m too cheap to use the air conditioning. Well, the real reason is I hate the windows closed. All winter long I wait until the spring when it gets warm enough so I can open all the windows and get some fresh air and hear the outside noises. Woodpeckers tapping, frogs and crickets and I don’t know what croaking, humming, chirping, rattling, hooting. Even the donkey next door, hee-hawing. What?—then I’m going to close all the windows the first hot day?
In the other house, I could get away with not putting the air conditioning on because that house was a monster with gaps and cracks in all the bead board walls and big windows that might as well have not been there for all the good they did regarding keeping things in or out. A rich person could afford to turn on the air conditioning there. Us, not being rich, I could resist turning it on in all good conscience. In fact, some might have patted me on the back and called me responsible and I’d take the credit even though I didn’t deserve it because the real reason was, I waiting to hear one of those owls outside.
When I was a kid living in Jersey City, New Jersey, and we’d go down the shore to Nana and Pop-Pop’s summer bungalow, an owl scared the crap out of me. I was dilly-dallying around in the yard after everyone had already gone inside for the night. Voices, banjo music and yellow light spilled out onto grass that felt like velvet to me. I was used to walking around barefoot on concrete up in the city. Even in the city and on concrete, kids walked around barefoot because kids don’t worry about practical matters. Kids are free.
When the owl hooted, I was terrified. What was that?! A monster? The boogieman? I ran to the back steps where I put my head down and covered it, afraid to look up. I couldn’t go any further. I was frozen, except for my shoulders shuddering because I was crying. My Nana came outside and lifted me up. How she knew I needed her, I’ll never know. But she got me inside and gave me a can of Shop-Rite cream soda.
Nana and Pop-Pop didn’t use air conditioning either. They didn’t have it. Not even a window unit when I was a kid. I don’t think central air even existed at the time. But no one complained. We kids slept in our underwear and undershirts in a big double bed off the porch. A window separated the bedroom from the porch. If there was any air movement, a breeze would come in that window. The porch was screened-in and the adults sat out there at night in rocking chairs drinking coffee or Reingold Beer and talking loud. Ours is a family of loud talkers. We yell across the kitchen table. We’re boisterous, emotional and lively. Swearing and cursing goes on, in a good natured way, such as, “Jesus Christ Fran,” (that’s my Pop-Pop to my Nana) “Pass the salt.”
Those two were in love. They were married 55 years and after Pop-Pop died of a heart attack playing bingo in the St. Catherine’s church hall, Nana didn’t last a year. She died of a broken heart. Nothing helped. Not even cans of cream soda. I would go over there and sit with her in the rocking chairs just like I did when Pop-Pop was alive but I didn’t know what to say.
I remind myself of Nana sometimes when I am crouching down in the flower bed. The way I lean over and pull out a stray bit of grass is the same way Nana leaned. We don’t crouch all the way down; we bend at the waist so we can keep walking while we are weeding because we have a lot to get done. We need to keep moving. Just like Nana, I have an immaculate yard, organized closets and a floor you can eat off of.
When I tell Kurt, “My crocuses are coming up,” I see Nana stretching over her kitchen sink on her tiptoes to look out the window and saying the same thing to Pop-Pop—“Harry, my crocuses are coming up.” Now if only Kurt would sit on the couch in his boxer shorts in front of the TV and the box fan in the window and circle the programs in the TV Guide that he plans to watch this week…like Pop-Pop used to do. But no, he wants to put on the air conditioning. I’ll keep resisting. I need the fresh air. I need to keep hearing those owls.