If you listen to folks on radio talk shows, or in grocery stores, one theme – other than COVID-19 – can be heard repeatedly: the heat. Montreal always has a heatwave or two during our all too short summers, but this year has been exceptionally hot and humid. I’m not sure if meteorological data backs this up, but to the person in the street, it has been one hot bastard of a summer.
We have gone to great lengths to avoid putting on our oven; God forbid we should add to the heat that has settled in our apartment. But that is not something my dear grandmother would have tolerated. Madge emigrated to Canada after the First World War with her new Canadian groom. He went off to work daily while she cooked, baked and, fulfilled the role of house-wife.
That role included preparing a large Sunday dinner, come hell or high water. My family lived within a nine iron of my grandparents, so the five of us were usually attendees. Sometimes another branch of the family would also join in, adding another six or so. I should point out that it was not a spacious abode.
Imagine if you will a hot Sunday afternoon, seven adults and possibly seven kids ranging from toddler to teenager, all in the one place. Some were wise and sought refuge on the balcony, but that didn’t last long as the sun was soon beating down unmercifully. Meanwhile back in the kitchen, which, in a rather odd layout, was smack in the middle of the main portion of the flat. Madge would sit at the table, her daughters and daughter-in-law following orders that would result in a vast amount of food.
The four burners atop the stove would be going full tilt, boiling water for an assortment of veggies. The oven would be stoked with a piece of beef that would require a mortgage to purchase today. That’s a whole lot of people in one very hot room, talk about Hades.
But then someone would get the bright idea to drag out the old tabletop fan. This would be placed on the kitchen counter and, being past its best days, didn’t produce enough of a gust to be felt if you were more than a few feet away. But then another thing was added. A bowl of ice cubes would be placed directly in front of the fan. Any movement of air would have to pass over the ice and be a delightfully cooling experience.
But just when you thought a respite from the heat had arrived, the other foot came down. Madge, like many English people of her generation, had an ungodly fear of drafts. This led to people staring at the fan blowing cool air, but not wanting to upset Madge by standing directly in the flow.
“Make sure that fan’s not blowing directly on you,” she’d say. “You’ll get a stiff neck and a cold.”
It was almost worse to be able to see your salvation, but not be able to fully embrace it. Almost like a desert mirage. Of course, this goes to show the strength of Madge’s character; imagine all those hot people obeying the instructions of a seventy-five-year-old grandmother.
Today when needed I stand smack in front of a fan. Madge is not around to warn me off, but I think about her whenever I feel that fan-produced cooling breeze.