Maven Moment: Beating the Heat in Mid-Century Brooklyn

two little girls kicking feet in water from city fountain

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My Grandma Jennie loved her tea. I have vivid memories of her sipping it even on hot August days. I remember asking her, “Grandma, how can you stand to drink tea on such a hot day?” She shot me a sharp look and snapped, “Because hot tea cools you off! You sweat, and then get cool!” I learned not to ask her annoying questions when the temperature was that high!

I suppose that to Jennie it made a lot of sense to drink hot tea in the summertime because she did not have fans to cool off or a freezer to make ice when she was young. What she did have was tea, and she knew that after she broke out in a sweat, she would feel cooler. In Brooklyn, many people even slept outdoors on porches and fire escapes to beat the summer heat.

We were never allowed to sleep outside when I was a child, but we had lots of other ways to keep cool. We had a kiddie pool in the backyard, and there was always a big pitcher of an icy cold drink waiting for us when we came out. Sometimes, an adult would open up fire hydrants  — called “johnny pumps” then — and we would run through the gushing cold water. When cars drove by (“Car!” someone would shout), we would dash to the sidewalks soaking wet — only to go right back in the street when the coast was clear!

On hot summer evenings, we would sit out on the stoop or play on the sidewalk long after the streetlamps came on because it was much cooler than it was during the day under the hot sun. And at night, my sister and I would sleep on the floor in front of a big (or so it seemed to us) metal fan. By morning, we might even feel chilly from the breeze.

When the temperature and humidity got high, our dad’s favorite way to beat the heat was to keep a soaking wet dish towel around his neck. I still use this method today. It really helps to cool me in my attic apartment in August. Sleeping on the floor in front of a fan with the air conditioning on low is salvation. Even with the AC on low, by combining it with the fan I am sometimes chilly by the morning. Plus, I can sleep in comfort without a high electric bill.

We can revisit some of these old favorites for keeping cool without using a lot of energy. While opening the fire hydrants to blast water down the streets might not be the most sustainable way to cool off, a short cool shower on a hot day can really make a difference. We can keep fans in the windows to get a cross breeze, sleep right in front of a strong fan, or keep a damp towel around our necks to keep cool. And we can sit outside on a summer evening and sip a cold drink.

Maybe grandma Jennie was on to something when she drank hot tea in the summertime to cool off. At the very least, drinking tea kept her hydrated!

Previous generations have so much to teach us. They adapted to the seasons without our modern conveniences, using simple tricks for keeping cool. And we can, too, for the sake of Mother Earth and future generations.

Joanna, the Green Maven

About the Author

Joanna Lacey lives in New York and has collected thousands of ideas from the frugal habits of her mother and grandmother. You can find her on Facebook at Joanna the Green Maven.

 

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