What did we do before air conditioners?
We had only one air conditioner in our house when I was growing up. And it was in our living room window. It looked more like a refrigerator sticking out of our window, it was huge. It took at least three people to lift it. My father had to build a special bracket to keep it in the window. If it ever fell out of the window it would have killed one of us kids playing in the driveway. I never saw anything like it then, or since. But, it kept us cool on those sweltering summer nights. I only remember my mother using the air conditioner when we had company or on an exceptionally hot night. Most nights during the summer we were cooled by fan power. My father had a large window fan he would put up in the dinning room window. At night, we would open up the windows in our bedrooms and close everything else in the house. With that fan on exhaust, it would draw the cooler outside air into our rooms. One fan took care of three rooms. But on the really hot, humid nights my mother would gather us up with sheets and pillows and we would bed down in the living room cooled by our air conditioner. She would put a sheet up to the entrance of the room to keep the cool air from escaping into other rooms. My mother and sister would sleep on the plastic covered sofas and my brother and I would sleep on the floor. My father? He never left his bedroom. He didn’t care. He would sleep through anything. He was probably thrilled he had the bed to himself that night.
I don’t ever remember having air conditioning in our cars till about….well, my father bought his first air-conditioned car around 1984. It was a Ford Grenada. I remember very well my first experience driving in an air-conditioned car, and it wasn’t my fathers. I might have been 8 or 9 years old and a couple of friends and I went for a ride in my neighbors car. Mr Conte had this very big black Cadillac. We might have been joining him to run some errands, but I remember getting into the car with his son, Frankie Boy and my other friend Junior. We might have just as well taken our first trip on the Space Shuttle. The novelty of feeling that cold air coming out of the dash-board was a pleasure beyond words. We were all crowded on the front seat so we had direct contact with the cool air. I remember thinking, wow, Mr Conte has air conditioning in his car! I never wanted to get out. I wonder if he would let us sleep in his car on some of those hot sticky nights? I asked my father why we didn’t have air conditioning in our car. He answered, “you don’t need air conditioning”!
My mother would also take us to the movies. Back in the day, it was the only place to stay cool, at least up until the 60’s when it became a standard feature in most businesses and a household amenity. I could remember seeing the banners with blue icicle style letters across the marquee: “Air Conditioned for your comfort” or “Refrigerated Air, Cool Comfort”. Walking into the theater you got hit with that rush of cool air filled with the aroma of popcorn. You arrived at the movies! Leaving the movies had the opposite effect. You forgot how hot and humid it was outside and when you hit the warm air the magic faded, along with the ladies hairstyle.
We did have a pool living in Brooklyn, if you want to call it that. We couldn’t keep the pool on our side of the back yard because that would have blocked the garage where my grandfather kept his 53 Hudson Wasp. So we had a deal with our neighbors the Vollaros. We shared a driveway between our two houses, but they did not have a car so we set up the pool on their side of the back yard. It also helped that Junior Vollaro, who was my age, was free to use the pool as well. The pool was a square structure with triangular seats at each of the four corners. It held about two feet of water and had a drain plug at the bottom. We would fill it up in the morning, allow a few hours of sunshine to warm it up and we went for a swim. We drained the pool at the end of the day so we didn’t worry about filtering. We used the back yard pool only on the weekdays because on the weekends my father would load us up in the car, with the Vollaros, and head off to Coney Island.
Life before air conditioners was a bit challenging. And the more air conditioners became part of our every day summer life I would think how did we ever do without it. Now that I have central air in my home I think, how could I ever live without this. We did…and lived to talk about it.
Vegetables Oreganata Style
- 1 medium eggplant, sliced 1/4″ rounds
- 1/4 cup olive oil plus more
- 2 medium zucchini sliced 1/4″ lengthwise
- 4 ripe plumb tomatoes, sliced 1/4″ lengthwise
- 1 medium onion, very thinly sliced into rounds
- 1 clove garlic, minced
- 1 cup plain breadcrumbs
- 1/4 cup Pecorino Romano grated cheese
- 3 sprigs of thyme leaves removed from stems
- 2 tablespoons of butter
- Salt and pepper to taste
Place about 1/4 cup olive oil on a flat sheet pan and spread evenly. Place the eggplant on the pan and flip them over to absorb some of the oil on the other side. Use two pans so you don’t crowd them. Place in a 375 degree oven for 15 minuets.
The eggplant and should be slightly softened. Remove from the oven to cool.
In the meantime, slice the zucchini, tomatoes and onions. Prepare the breadcrumbs by mixing together the minced garlic, Romano cheese and thyme with the bread crumbs. Add 1/4 teaspoon of salt and 1/4 tsp of pepper. Add 2 tablespoons of olive oil and mix well.
Butter a 13″x 9″x 2″ Pyrex baking dish. Place a layer of eggplant against the side of the pan. Place on top of the eggplant the zucchini then the tomato and then the onion.
Repeat the next row the same way until you used up all the vegetables and the pan is full. Sprinkle the vegetables liberally with salt and pepper.
Now sprinkle the flavored breadcrumbs on top of the vegetables. Drizzle a good amount of olive oil over everything, about 1/4 cup.
Bake in a 350 degree oven for 35 minutes, or until the bread crumbs are browned and vegetables tender. Allow to cool slightly before serving. Can also be eaten at room temperature.