News From Terre Haute, Indiana

July 10, 2012

LIZ CIANCONE: There were no cooling centers in 1936

Liz Ciancone
Special to the Tribune-Star

TERRE HAUTE — Mother Nature hasn’t been acting very maternal. In fact, she more closely resembles Cinderella’s stepmother. I’m about ready to throw in the white flag. I don’t do heat and she, apparently, doesn’t do either cool or rain.

I am paying close attention to the weather reports, but the best they seem able to do is promise a vague percentage of an opportunity for “isolated” or “scattered” showers. This prognostication is followed by a look back at 1936, a year which set all kinds of heat records which we are now shattering.

Kids don’t seem to suffer in heat the way adults appear to do. I remember that Ed and I slept in the front yard. My Best Friend says he and his whole family — except his mom — also took to the yard or the front porch. My BF cuddled up with his dog and I remember Lady waking me by licking the dew off my face.

Later, Mr. Perkins built a bookcase under the two south windows in my bedroom. It was long enough that I could stretch out with my pillow and catch any summer breeze. Dad and Mom just sat up late in those pre-daylight-savings days.

Now Mother Nature is dipping into her bag of dirty tricks again and meteorologists are taking another look at 1936. I haven’t seen anyone sleeping out in the yard, but maybe that is a last resort. Some of the areas actually getting one of those scattered showers also have been dealt a second low blow with severe storms which have knocked out the power — an essential to living in 2012.

Reports the other evening featured an interview with a seriously inconvenienced man who wanted his electricity back on ASAP. Another interview dismissed the availability of going to a “cooling center.” He apparently wanted the power company to concentrate on his city and his neighborhood so he could bask in the comfort of his own home. Even if he had an air-conditioned car, he felt put upon to get home from work to a home cooled to deep winter temperatures.

I had to smile about that. In 1936 we had no cooling centers and the only air conditioning I remember was installed in the Paramount Theater in Aurora. It wasn’t a comfortable cool. It was cold and it was damp and we had no way to get to Aurora from Yorkville.

Toward the end of that memorable summer, Dad bought a 12-inch electric fan so Mom could flop in a breeze when she finished her day’s occupations. Ed and I spent many hours up to our arm pits in Blackberry Creek.

This summer won’t go down as one of my favorites, but at least we have air conditioning and our electricity continues to provide air conditioning. There is always some blessing to count.

Liz Ciancone is a retired Tribune-Star reporter. Her column has appeared on this page for more than 20 years. Send e-mail to