WACHS: Getting accustomed to what we’re accustomed to


From time to time, I’ve been called a weenie, a wimp, even a softie.

And from time to time, I’ve agreed with that assessment.

Sometimes, that charge and my agreement came at the end of a long day of, say, cutting, splitting and stacking firewood when I quit while other folks kept doing their Energizer bunny impression. It didn’t matter that I was 20 years older than everyone; the crime was that I was the first to quit.

Same thing for getting up hay in square bales. I’ve been retired from that for some time, and don’t miss it.

When those accusations arise, I find I’ve become my father, telling those smart-aleck 40-year-olds what he used to say to me: “Just wait; you’ll understand one day.”

He was right.

I do.

And so will they... one day.

And while my other two parents — Mother Nature and Father Time — have left me with lousy shoulders, knees and hips, I find lately there’s another part of life where the “softie” description fits.

Granted, the physical part is a big part. As a younger man, I was somewhat strong. I had pretty decent biceps from splitting wood by hand and tossing hay and lifting chicken legs and ham biscuits to my lips. Then arthritis and several surgeries set in, and a different song started playing. Today, I can only turn the pages of books showing pictures of young men splitting wood by hand and tossing hay; I can still, however, pick up a chicken leg or biscuit.

That other part of life I’ve begun to notice concerns temperature — not mine but the weather’s. I don’t do 90 degrees well at all. Period. And the funny thing — not funny “ha ha” but funny as in funny “interesting” — is that just like the wood splitting, at one time it never bothered me.

The last few days, with their 90+ degrees and 411 percent humidity, are a good example. During those and similar ones, I’ve begun to wonder why it’s a shortcoming, and I think I’ve found a couple of reasons. Maybe you can identify with them if you have similar issues.

One is that I’m just getting older and have earned the right to fuss. One day, I was conversing with my brother and realized I was airing a long list of complaints. As I started hearing myself, I commented, “My soul; I’m turning into a grouchy old man,” to which he said, “What do you mean, turning?”

I immediately took him off my Christmas card list and struck him with my chicken leg and biscuit.

Another reason is because there’s more of me to cool than there once was. A 44-inch spare tire around the middle requires more cool air than a 36. The distance between those two isn’t just eight inches but also 40 years.

But the biggest reason of all goes back farther than those 40 years. While I’m grateful to Mr. Carrier for his air-cooling machine, we’ve gotten so used to air conditioning that without it, many of us are a bunch of whining, grouchy folks getting older and working on a spare tire or already sporting one.

As youngsters, we went for years without an air conditioner in our house or vehicle. Today’s generation may find it difficult to believe, but once, air conditioners were an option — as in “costing more money” — on new cars. If you chose not to add A/C to your ride, you could fall back on the old standard “4-50” air conditioner: Four windows down at 50 miles an hour.

And as for houses, ours or anybody’s – you kept cool by throwing open all windows, preferably those with screens, and maybe having a big ol’ box fan in one window blowing air through the house if you had a long hall. One day, my dad got a bonus in his paycheck and went out and bought another box fan, which he installed in my room at the other end of the hall. From there, it made a breeze throughout the house that was cool enough at night to make a difference.

Later, he evidently got another bonus and bought a 20,000-ton air conditioner I helped him install in a window on the front of our house. It was a good thing that day that I had developed some arm muscles. Later, he found a smaller used one and put it in my bedroom window where the fan had been. That was the end of sleeping with the windows open, except for the brief periods of spring and fall when it just felt good to do so.

When we started shutting up the house so, as my father said, we weren’t “cooling the whole world,” several things happened. One is that I started sleeping through the night without sweating. Two, by shutting the window, I could no longer hear the bullfrogs on Wallace Farrell’s pond.

But mostly, and I think this may be a big part of the overall problem, I started turning into the softie I am today.

While I miss hearing the frogs, I think I’ll stick with the A/C.

Funny (interesting) what we get used to, isn’t it? The life lesson here, I think, is to be careful what you start to get used to; it may stick around for a long time.

Bob Wachs is a native of Chatham County and emeritus editor at Chatham News & Record. He serves as pastor of Bear Creek Baptist Church.