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Moms Give The Best Advice, Especially About The Heat

Moms Give The Best Advice, Especially About The Heat

The New York Times and other outlets are in a panic, with headlines such as “Heat Wave To Hit Two-Thirds Of the U.S.”, “It Will Be 90 Degrees Or Warmer For Nearly 90% of Americans This week” and “Brutal Heat Wave Is Descending on the U.S. and Blackouts May Ensue.”

A far cry from that smug little piece they published last week, “Do Americans Need Air Conditioning?” (As an unapologetic lover of AC, I answered that ridiculous question with a resounding YES.)

A heat wave? Sure, if the Times says so. Me? I just call it summer. And thanks to my mom, I know how to survive.

Because I was born at the end of a blistering summer and my parents lived in a cramped attic apartment with little ventilation, my mother considered herself something of an expert on staying cool.

"You can't imagine what it was like, being pregnant when the temperature in our apartment was 110," she'd say accusingly, as if it was my fault she and Dad had gotten frisky around Christmas without bothering to count to nine.

This time of year, every news outlet is offering advice on how to survive a heat wave. Drink lots of water, wear loose-fitting clothes, don't leave your kids/dog/butter in the car. Blah, blah, blah.

But do these so-called summer survival experts ever tell you to store your deodorant in the refrigerator? To put ice cubes in cold bath water and sink in? To dust yourself with baby powder and stretch out in front of a fan?

No, they don't.

Those are just a few of the dozens of practical cooling-off tricks my mother taught me as a kid. Armed with her tips, seersucker shorts, a pixie haircut and a stash of popsicles, I was ready to endure any kind of punishing heat wave.

First, though, fans.

Apparently, when other prospective parents were buying baby items, mine were investing in contraptions to move the air. Our apartment hummed with them. We constantly blew fuses. They had to put paperweights on everything. Including me.

These metal blowers were built to last and still around when I was a teenager, which was good, because in all those years, we never had air conditioning, even after we traded our one-bedroom garret for a three-bedroom ranch in a barren 1950s Levittown-like development.

Our "brick oven," my mother called it. Even so, my parents balked at air conditioning.

"Once people get air conditioning, they go inside and never come out," my mother used to say, sitting on a metal lawn chair in the yard, drinking iced tea and fanning herself.

It was true. The Belinskys were the first family on our street to get air conditioning. We never saw them again.

As other neighbors bought window units they, too, disappeared. Soon it seemed there was no one sitting outside and swatting mosquitoes at night but the dripping Doughertys - and the elderly couple next door who wore sweaters all year round.

Inside, our house was a forest of fans. Table fans. Fans on stands. Box fans jammed into window frames.

Those box fans were the source of heated battles. My father insisted they should be set on “suck” to pull the hot air out of the house. As soon as he left my bedroom, I set mine to “blow” and I’d stand in front of it, cooling off in a window-sized tornado.

Hurricane-like gusts were just the beginning of our war on heat. My mother regarded the refrigerator as a critical cooling weapon. In summer there was barely room for food.

Her red lipstick stayed in the freezer all summer, right next to the half gallon of Breyers neapolitan. The dog's water bowl went in at night, giving the Irish setter a cold drink that lasted for hours.

Mom's Mum deodorant spent the summers in the fridge, as did her Evening in Paris perfume. Nestled near them was my dad's ivory cone of Old Spice. There were wet face cloths in Tupperware, rolled into tubes and chilled to the perfect temp. Oh yeah, she also refrigerated calamine lotion and Noxzema, on the belief that the twin scourges of summer - poison ivy and sunburn - ought to be given the cold treatment.

She was a bank teller who had to dress up for work, so she kept her stockings in the freezer. She’d kill me for telling you this, but during an especially brutal heat wave I once found her unmentionables in there, too.

Hot weather experts will warn you not to exercise at noon and to drink lots of fluids - as if you couldn't figure that out on your own. But when it comes to keeping cool, nothing will give you the chills quite like a shot of refrigerated underwear.

Trust me.

Better yet, trust my mother.

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