“In the cool,
cool, cool of the evenin',
tell 'em I'll be there.
In the cool, cool, cool of the evenin',
better save a chair.”
“In the Cool, Cool, Cool of the Evening,” 1951, lyrics by Johnny
Mercer, music by Hoagy Carmichael
who have never been lulled into an afternoon nap by the hum of an
oscillating fan may have trouble understanding what follows, but
Texans have not always been able to cool off by simply adjusting
In the long ago, when Bing Crosby and Jane Wyman recorded “In the
Cool, Cool, Cool of the Evening” for Decca Records during the Eisenhower
administration, the only screens most people spent any time in front
of were the ones that towered above the stage in a darkened downtown
theater. Back before telephones were smart and when only birds tweeted,
air conditioning was not common. In fact, movie theaters and department
stores were among the few refuges actually offering refrigerated
air. Well into the 1960s, even public schools operated sans AC.
Nor did motor vehicles come from Detroit with what used to be called
“factory air.” Back then, keeping cool on the road meant driving
with the windows down.
These days, Texas is down to only two generations who remember Pre-Air-conditioning
Members of the Greatest Generation, the folks who fought in or lived
War II, spent much of their lives trying to stay cool as best
they could before mechanically chilled air became common. Their
kids, the Baby Boomers, got only a taste of what life was like in
the summer without AC, but it was enough to make memories.
Being in an un-air-conditioned house in hot weather could certainly
be uncomfortable, but sitting in a room where the thermostat is
set at 71 degrees, it’s possible to remember the lazy, hazy, crazy
days of summers past with at least a bit of nostalgia.
My grandparents – both born before 1900 -- knew only two summertime
temperature settings for three quarters of their lives: The Heat
of the Day and the Cool of the Evening.
“I don’t want you playing outside in the Heat of the Day,” my grandmother
would declare back in the 1950s. “Wait until the Cool of the Evening.”
The Heat of the Day needed to be spent in close proximity to a fan,
the manufacturing of which would certainly not seem like a growth
industry today. But back then, open windows and fans were just about
the only way to keep cool unless you spent a lot of time in a swimming
Some homes did have “swamp coolers.” These were evaporative “air-conditioners””
that would blow cool air if the humidity was low enough. Still,
most Texans got by with fans.
An afternoon rain shower could cool things off in the Heat of the
Day, but during the drought of the early 1950s, that didn’t happen
often. When it did, it was a big deal. If it wasn’t lightning, children
in bathing suits or sometimes only their birthday suits ran in the
rain and gleefully splashed in water coursing along gutters and
But, ah, the Cool of the Evening.
As the sun sank and shadows lengthened, the mercury in the thermometer
slowly receded and people began emerging from their houses. Of course,
“cool” was a relative term. Even so, temperatures in the low 90s
or mid-80s trumped 100-plus degree readings, especially if there
was a little south breeze.
In the early days of television, on some evenings one of our neighbors
would turn their TV set around to face outward from the large, picture
window in their living room so folks could sit outside on metal
lawn chairs, watching the black and white screen as if they were
in a drive-in movie. The audio drifted out the front screen door.
If that got
boring, novel as it was, you could turn your chair and see the big
screen of the nearby Burnet Drive-In. Of course, we got no sound,
but anyone who could read lips had it made.
Most of the time during the Cool of the Evening, people sat on their
front lawns or porches and just talked. Well, they might also be
eating a bowl of homemade peach ice cream and washing it down with
an aluminum “glass” of iced tea, but mostly they visited, enjoying
the drop in temperature. Kids clutching Mason jars with icepick
holes punched in the lids ran after fireflies, better known as lightning
In that long
ago time, when we went to bed, we fell asleep with the windows open
relaxed by the sounds of the night. The gentle rustling of the cottonwood
tree in the front yard made a peaceful white noise decades before
I ever heard the term. Austin
then being a much smaller city, the buzz of June bugs in summer
and the chirping of crickets in September produced a lot more noise
than passing cars.
All too soon, in a rhythm that has survived the advent of air-conditioning,
the Cool of the Evening once again warmed into the Heat of the Day.
© Mike Cox
- August 7, 2014 column
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