Friday, August 24, 2007

Aug. 25, 2007 the heat wave

I have had a completely different take on the horrendous heat wave we've experienced this month. The heat wave 30 years ago forever changed my outlook on extremely hot weather.
First of all, summer is still my favorite season, and I still feel the healthiest, strongest and the liveliest when we have 16 hours of daylight and it is hazy, hot and humid. In fact, heat and humidity in and of themselves still don't bother me. What bothers me is if I have to wear restrictive clothing and am forced to be in a place where there is no air circulation.
I am very glad that I am not in school, and do not have children in school. I am also very glad that so many schools made the decision to either close for the day or shut down entirely. The ones that were open allowed the students to wear shorts and tank tops. There is no reason to make people suffer.
The school year of 1976-1977 was my sophomore year of high school. That winter was the coldest in Cincinnati's history--the year the Ohio River froze over for the first time in decades. There was still snow on the ground in April and it was still in the 20s at night that month. And then May came, and it suddenly got hot, and we still had six more weeks of school.
I went to Mother of Mercy High School, five floors, a building from the 1920s, poor insulation and huge windows. Cold enough on extremely cold days that the pipes froze in the floor (yes, it did happen, and it's one of Mercy's most infamous moments). Hot enough on hot days that you can't stay awake.
The uniform at that time was a medium weight twill blue uniform jumper. Doesn't sound bad, except it came up to your armpits rather than being open on the sides. Knee socks and support shoes. A great uniform for October when it's 40 in the morning and 60 in the afternoon. A terrible uniform when the room temperature is close to 90 with 75 percent humidity.
So this was my situation: We didn't get air conditioning at home until the mid-1980s. Every morning I would walk two blocks to the city bus stop and wait on the sidewalk in an area with no trees. The bus ride itself in the morning wasn't bad, even though the buses weren't yet air-conditioned. The city bus stop closest to school was still two blocks from Mercy, but the sidewalks were tree-lined and the direct sun didn't hit you yet. It wasn't bad early in the morning.
Then came afternoon, and the temperature in the building started to climb. I'd struggle every day after lunch to stay awake in American literature class (I hated the teacher and she forever turned me against American literature, but that is another story). My last two classes were a little better, but then came the walk back to the bus stop going home. Direct sunlight, no trees. Wait 20 minutes for the city bus. Stand most of the way home until enough people had gotten off that I could sit down. No a/c on the bus. Get off the bus, walk two blocks home in direct sunlight. Go into a house with no cool areas. I'd come home sweaty and exhausted, and smelly if it were "that time of the month." Try doing homework. Homework just overwhelmed me that last quarter because I was too hot to concentrate.
I did poorly in most of my classes. For the entire rest of my life, both before and after that, I'd always been an A and B and occasional C student. I ended up flunking the American literature final exam, getting a 69. My final quarter grade for that class on my report card was 70, D-minus. I suspect the only reason the teacher passed me at all for the quarter was just to get me out of her class. In my entire school career, that quarter had the lowest grades I had ever gotten before or since.
You're probably thinking--well, she failed Am Lit because she didn't like the teacher and her teaching methods, and didn't agree with what was being taught. Yes, that is true. But that doesn't explain the poor turnout for the other classes. It had nothing to do with the subject matter. Instead, it had to do with not being able to concentrate in school or home because of the heat, experiencing symptoms of heat exhaustion. It had to do with wearing clothing that was not at all breathable and did not allow sweat to evaporate.
Am I bitter about this, even after 30 years? Yes, I am. You're probably thinking I should get over it. Why should I get over it? What I experienced was borderline sadism. There was no reason whatsoever to make me and my classmates suffer that much. I've read so many comments on other blogs and opinion pages the past few weeks from adults who are saying the kids need to toughen up, that the adults themselves coped with it when they were younger and turned out fine. I have never read any comments by other adults such as myself who were one of those who didn't cope with it, who were unable to deal with it, and had to suffer the consequences. There have to be others like myself who had bad experiences with extreme heat in schools 20, 30 or 40 years ago.

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