The recent 109 degree temperature made me remember what seemed to be even hotter days. When my younger friends ask me if I ever had hot flashes, I have to laugh. Since I taught in an unair-conditioned school where required apparel was a dress, slip, underwear and stockings I was always in a state of hot flashes. If I ever had a medical hot flash, I do not know. School began in August. In a matter of minutes, not one thread of clothing was dry. In fact, at lunch, when allowed, I went home, took a bath, changed clothes, and came back to become soaked again. To make matters worse, at least one child was allergic to bee stings. If the windows stayed open, the chance of an errant bee existed. The alternative was to be ready to inject the stung individual, something that appalled me more than the searing heat!
I remember one senior, face red and clothing sweat stained, who asked me, “Ms. P., don’t they (the school officials) know how hot it is.” I replied, “No, they don’t.” He stated, “Why? They must be crazy then.” I answered by telling him the truth; the school officials were sitting in air-conditioned comfort in their offices and in the district office. A look of surprise came, and he, with determination, said, “They won’t be by tomorrow.” This individual could not write an acceptable paragraph, but he definitely did know electricity and mechanics. I cautioned, “Now, ___.” I could not swear to his involvement, but all office air conditioners ceased to function and required more than a week to fix.
I pled to be able to install air conditioning in my room, offering to pay for the unit myself. The principal said I could do so and he would move me each year until the whole school was done. Knowing him and his ability to assign rooms, I accepted failure. Then, my husband went to Iran, and the assistant principal told me I could get an air conditioner if I got it by that day. My husband’s location was very important since he had left me unaware of just how much money we had in the checking account, and I was existing on my teacher’s meager salary, paying all the bills. Refusing to allow the opportunity to pass, I went to a utility store, bought an air conditioner on the terms it would be installed that day, and told the man I did not know if the check would clear the bank but I would make it good if not.
Can you imagine my surprise then, when my students, elated by the cook air, said, “We know Ms. P. would force Kershaw County to make us comfortable.” Certainly, I did not wish them to think the County had given me special treatment, so I, quite angrily, told them the facts, ending with the remark, “If you see policemen carrying me off in handcuffs, it is because I wrote a check with insufficient funds.” That afternoon a group of pupils came and said, “Ms. P., we will be glad to take up a collection to help you pay for the unit.” I assured them I appreciated the thought but would not hear of such a thing. I was delighted that they cared enough and knew how to gauge teachers’ salaries.
Today, classrooms are all air conditioned in summer with regulated heat in winter. The number of students is small as compared to 40 or 45 heat-prostrated individuals. I still prefer what we had -- warmth and rapport. Today, a hug might get you an appearance on television for sexual harassment. An earned reprimand might cause censure for the teacher, perhaps even dismissal and a ruined record. Contrary to Miniver Cheevey, I was not “born too late.”