Living with extremes

Fresno can be very hot in the summer, and very cold in the winter. We are a place of extremes. Like our economy. There are very wealthy people living in the valley, but we are one of the poorest spots in the nation, too. If you you drive from one side of town to the other, you will see the homeless, the downtrodden, the small, unkempt homes and you will see estates, expensive stores, designer clothes, manicured parks.

When I give tours at Kearney Mansion, I always point out the way the house was designed in 1903 to combat the valley’s heat. The walls are two feet thick adobe brick. The windows are double paned glass. The wrap-around porch has a 10 foot overhang. Even then, M. Theo Kearney refused to stay in Fresno during the summer, instead traveling to Europe to see friends and purchase artwork for the castle he planned to some day build on the lines of Hearst Castle. Mr. Hearst built his; Mr. Kearney died before his could be built.

When I took over the yearbook class, I was able to retrieve from the vault yearbooks going back 100 years, to the turn of the century. We laughed as we read the vacation plans of teachers and students which were printed in those early books. No one stayed in town. Instead they too, like Mr. Kearney, traveled to Europe or the coast or up to the mountains. You must realize that in 1890 only the wealthy of the city attended high school and most of the teachers were hired from Berkeley and Stanford. They had the means with which to escape the brutal heat.

Even now, the very wealthy leave Fresno for cooler places. Many have homes in mountain resorts or in Hawaii. When I served on the calendar committee for the school district, I had to battle these wealthy parents who did not want to start school until after Labor Day. They used the excuse that the air was bad for the poor children who had asthma, not considering that the schools are air conditioned and would provide better air for the students than their own homes might. These wealthy parents did not want to return from Huntington Lake, Lake Tahoe, Hawaii, or even Paris (I had one student whose parents had a home there), while it was still hot in Fresno. Their arguments sounded so legitimate, and it was only when I brought up their summer homes did I see nods and looks of recognition from the other committee members.

I am thankful for air conditioning both at home and in my cars. We wouldn’t think of buying a car here without air conditioning. Stores and shopping centers are all air conditioned as are the schools and any public institution. Should the air conditioning go out for some reason, many places will close during the summer knowing that there won’t be any business for them. I am also grateful for the large trees we have in our yard that help keep the house cool. Our patio, which has a southwest exposure, has a 20 foot cover so as to keep the sun away from our large sliding glass door. When we recently reroofed the house we replaced the wood shakes with a ‘cool’ roof in a very light color.

Even with all of these efforts, the house can still be warm on those 100+ degree days when the overnight temperatures only drop to 70 degrees. Especially if I use the oven and/or cook on the stovetop. We have tried to eat cool meals this week as well as going out to eat a couple of times. Although restaurants keep their thermostats turned low on these hot days, just getting from the car to the building can be searing. On the hottest day this week–110 degrees–I met my retired friends for lunch. You can see from this photo we took upon arrival that we were melting:

June birthday lunch

Such shiny faces!


16 responses to “Living with extremes

  1. The heat can be oppressive in Chico as well. For years I lived with only a swamp cooler to refresh us, which was fine until the temps passed 100 degrees. Then it really didn’t work much at all. In my new house I have a pool and air conditioning and a whole house fan. I feel blessed indeed!

  2. It never gets that hot in Hawaii. My house is air conditioned, though.

  3. You still look awfully happy to be together, even if you are a bit shiny. I cannot live in that kind of heat, which is why I moved to the damp Pacific Northwest. It’s good that you have air conditioning! 🙂

    • We had a lovely time celebrating a couple of June birthdays with that lunch. Three hours later, when we left the restaurant, we were all cooled down. Of course, it was 111 degrees in my car!

  4. It sounds like your weather is very much like ours in St. Louis. We’ve been lucky so far this summer; after a week of hot the temperatures cooled back into the high 70s/low 80s. I much prefer it that way.

    • I think you have higher humidity than we do, Kathy. If our humidity gets to 30 percent we are all dying around here. Usually our humidity stays far below 20 percent in the summer. winter time, is another story.

  5. Well you all don’t look hot, you look nice!

    • Thanks, Christine. Figuring out what to wear that day was a job. I wore a skirt which I usually do in this heat. However, for this heat, I also wore a sleeveless top which I just never do. I have very fat arms which I prefer to cover. It was too hot on that occasion.

  6. Brave ladies all to gather in spite of heat. I bet the memories you share made it worth the discomfort.
    We think we couldn’t survive the heat and humidity here on the Mississippi Gulf Coast if we didn’t have AC. Those trips from car to home or building with AC is brutal here, too. And when the temperatures stay above 80 throughout the night, even early morning is like walking into a hot wet blanket.

    And yet our grandparents survived, although our parents welcomed the availability of home air conditioning as soon as it became affordable.

  7. You all look happy to have met up despite the heat. Interesting to read how you cope with your climate during these months. I think my husband would like to be over in Italy right now as he loves the sunshine and warmth that it brings. I prefer the cooler seasons of Spring and Autumn days there myself. At least we’re in our home in England the majority of the time now and can enjoy the benefits of continually nurturing and tending our vegetables and hopefully enjoying the harvest.

  8. And if any of you think I am exaggerating, here is a blog post from a friend who moved to Washington a few years ago but returned last week for a visit to Fresno:
    You can read her description of the weather here and how she and her family survived.

  9. It gets hot here, but seldom reaches the high 90s. Now that my neighbor cut three trees down it will be hotter this summer.

  10. Fresno sounds alot like N.H. but only in winter. Actually, Fresno is waaay hotter than N.H. in summer and nowhere near as cold in winter.

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