Gimme Swelter: 10 Tips for a Retro Summer Day

Your clothes will dry outside in less than an hour on a day like this.

Italian ice immediately lowers the temperature by at least 10 degrees.

What did we do before everybody had air-conditioning? We sought out the shade. We licked icy things. We ran through the sprinkler. We crowded in front of the most powerful fan in the house, which dried our sweat and garbled the words we spoke into it like a primitive synthesizer. We wore cotton baby doll pajamas and lay crosswise across our beds to best catch the breezes.

Soon the humidity is supposed to return to Boston, but today was still mighty hot and I wrestled with pushing the A/C button. Instead I gave myself a retro day and recreated the hot summer day of my 1960s youth…when nobody had air conditioning except for a few stores that advertised: “Come in, it’s Kool inside.” (Featuring a pack of Kool cigarettes.)

Here are a few things to try at home, guaranteed to lift your spirits and help you savor the summer regardless of the heat index. Of course, you need a clear schedule to do this.

Go barefoot through the grass early in the morning, and enjoy the cool feeling of the dew before the blazing heat turns the crabgrass all crunchy. I did this as I watered our window boxes.

This time of year gives me the blues.

Pick blueberries. They are at their peak in the sweltering days of July. Look for the ones that have shiny blue patches on them; the opaque purple ones need a few more days. Go in the morning before the heat gets unbearable.

This zucchini is great on the grill.

Visit a farm stand. Keep a local farmer in business. I found freshly picked zucchini, summer squash and the season’s first corn. I’m planning to grill the squash and make corn fritters for dinner some time.

Get some really fresh eggs. Chickens lay more eggs in hot weather, and luckily a friend of mine happens to have some in her back yard. She let me take a dozen eggs off her hands so that I could…

Make deviled eggs. The quintessential picnic food; one I never see during the winter. I use plenty of mayo, some mustard, pickle juice, salt and pepper.

Deviled eggs are the perfect retro summer snack.

Hang your clothes outside. They will dry in about an hour. When you carry them inside for folding, bury your face in the pile and inhale deeply.

Make iced tea. A half gallon of ginger peach tea is chilling in the fridge right now.

Go out for Italian ice. Cherry ice reminds me of Fourth of July in my old home town in suburban Philadelphia. The Rosati Water Ice company always gave out free cups of water ice on the fourth, complete with a wooden spoon for scraping out every bit of goodness. Today’s, alas, had a plastic spoon but it still brought me back.

For added nostalgia, make sure your purveyor of Italian ice has a window that looks like this.

Have a siesta under a whirling ceiling fan. I spent part of this afternoon reading the New York Times on our screened-in porch under the fan.


Take a shower at night. It will wash off the day’s sweat and cool you off, and you’ll feel mighty good slipping into the sheets.

13 thoughts on “Gimme Swelter: 10 Tips for a Retro Summer Day

  1. Your blog brought back memories of the past when we didn’t.’t have clothes dryers,yet still enjoy hanging sheets out because they smell so fresh when you put them on your bed.

  2. I still wish we could hang our clothing out to dry on a backyard line as we did years ago—— especially towels and sheets! Yes still remember the beautiful clean smell 🙂

  3. Baby doll pajamas! I had forgotten those. Thanks for the memories…

  4. I remember the days before AC – we lived in the country and were cooled by huge poplar trees – we did not think of the heat as oppressive then – in fact the hotter it was the more we basked in it

  5. Allow yourself a few min tanning in the sun…not great for the skin but wonderful for the soul.

  6. This is lovely!
    The days without air conditioners… Such fun 🙂
    This is definitely an action-packed post 😀

  7. Similar memories of summers in Southern California. Chasing after the ice cream truck. Stubbing my toe because I was always barefoot. Swimming in the neighbors pool for hours that left my blonde hair tinged green from the chlorine. Loved those farm stand peaches.

    • Linda, what great memories! I loved the ice cream truck, which always came by our house every afternoon. Another more ominous memory…the “mosquito man,” who would come down the street every summer spraying something noxious out of his small truck. It was probably DDT. Some of the guys in the neighborhood would dance in the smoke that sprayed out the back of the truck.

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