Mom and I get along pretty well, with one exception: she’s always cold—even now, in the dog days of summer—and I’m always too warm. Her townhouse has central air conditioning. Given her druthers, she’d keep the indoor temperature about 85 all the time. That’s waaay too warm for me. Given my druthers (and an unlimited income so I could afford the staggering electric bills), I’d keep the temperature at 68 degrees year ‘round. But that’s waaay too cold for Mom.
So, being mostly reasonable grown-ups, we compromise. The thermostat is kept at 75 degrees in the summer. That’s still too cold for Mom’s comfort, so she wears a cardigan and snuggles on the sofa under a wooly throw. Likewise, 75 is still too uncomfortably warm for me, so I keep the Japanese paper fan I found at World Market handy, dress as lightly as I decently can and enjoy frequent popsicles.
And that’s how it’s been since summer began—at least, until Tuesday this week when the A/C suddenly died. The soonest we were able to get a repairperson to come out and fix it was/is Friday.
Late Wednesday afternoon, the temperature inside Mom’s townhouse hit 86 degrees downstairs (and upstairs? Where the bedrooms are? Let’s not even go there). Today (Thursday), when I came home at 6:45 after working in my aunt’s (blessedly air-conditioned) house all day, it was 91. Inside. Downstairs. The peak temperature outdoors today was 96.
Now, before you accuse me of elder abuse, as in “How could you leave your frail, elderly mother home alone in an un-air-conditioned house to bake like that?!” please rest assured that Mom was as happy as she could be. I found her in the kitchen wearing short sleeves for the first time all summer. She was barefooted, making a salad for our dinner, vigorously chopping carrots and radishes, slicing tomatoes and tossing lettuce. She absolutely beamed. And while she expressed concern about my discomfort (I’m sweating, red-faced, and flapping my paper fan while gulping down ice water), in her heart of hearts she’s hoping that the A/C repairperson calls in sick/has engine trouble/has to send to Shanghai for a new part for our air conditioner tomorrow. I know this as someone who’s watched her mother wrap up in an electric blanket turned on “high” in the daytime in July.
As I write this, three minutes before midnight, with all the windows open and every fan in the place turned up as high as they’ll go, the temperature in here has dropped a whole five degrees. I’ve sucked down three glasses of ice water, slurped two popsicles, and have gone through six paper towels used to wipe the sweat off my neck, temples and upper lip. PIB, my sweet old cat, has abandoned his usual spot curled up next to me for a cooling sprawl on the tile floor of the kitchen. The other two cats have spent most of the evening sitting on the windowsills, pressed against the screens for the slightly cooler air.
I write all of this with a smile on my face because, honestly, I just have to laugh at myself. I can’t be mad at Mom. First, the broken A/C isn’t her fault, even if she did pray for it every day this summer. Second, she can’t help being who she is, and I love her for it. She’s small and slender and has been cold-blooded for as long as I can remember. My sister, who’s four years younger than I am, is the same way. I, on the other hand, inherited my warm-bloodedness from my late father. He and Mom rarely bickered, but when they did, it was usually over the thermostat. And finally, while I inherited Mom’s fair skin and blonde hair, and we’re both female Scorpios, that’s where our similarities stop. We’re total opposites. Mom’s tidy. I’m messy. Her median speed is 60 mph; mine is more like 15. She’s a Republican. I’m a Democrat. Her clothes always match. Mine frequently don’t. She decorates her home in muted, neutral colors and pristine, tasteful surfaces; my house is a joyous riot of primary colors and what she sees as messy clutter and I see as beautiful variety. When she gets mad, she lets you know. When I get mad, I simmer and keep quiet. I don’t spout off unless I’m furious and absolutely at the end of my rope.
My sister is much more like my mother and, not surprisingly, has always been much closer to her emotionally than I have. But in an ironic twist of fate, I’m the one who ended up living closer and, when she finally needed me, the one who was able to help. That makes me smile, too, because if Mom hadn’t suddenly been struck down by sciatica last fall, we’d never have gotten to know each other again. We’d never have had this opportunity to become closer in spite of our differences. I’m glad that we have. It’s been a wonderful and unexpected gift.
But I sure will be glad when the air conditioner is fixed.