By Hannah Reich Berman
It’s that time of year again when we begin to think about the approach of hot weather. At least I think about it. As of now, it appears that winter has no intention of leaving quietly, or leaving at all. It is mid-April and if I leave my house in the early mornings, I still need an outer jacket, and sometimes even a scarf. By midmorning I’ve usually divested myself of the scarf, and by noon the jacket doesn’t leave the car with me. I toss it on the back seat. But it doesn’t feel much like spring—which leads me to believe that it will be one of those years when we will go directly from winter to summer. That happens sometimes. The problem is that I need time to adjust.
I am not now, nor have I ever been, a summer person. Whether it’s a function of age or some sudden weird phenomenon, I’m not certain. My reaction to temperature has changed. For as long as I can remember, I always preferred cold weather to warm. During the winter months, I never set the thermostat on the heating unit higher than 70 degrees. Keeping the cost of home heating oil in mind, my husband, Arnie, didn’t mind that. But keeping windows open was another matter. Even on the coldest nights, I would keep the window open an inch or so, and Hubby had his limits when it came to being cold. So, as soon as he thought I was asleep, he would get up and gently lower the window.
It never took long for me to wake up bathed in perspiration, at which point I would listen for his slow, steady breathing and, assuming he was asleep, I would creep silently to the window and lift it once again. This was a nightly activity that I once described, right here in this column, as “the Great Window Race.” I now realize that the word race was a misnomer. In a race, someone always wins. Ours wasn’t a true race, because neither of us ever won. But we learned a good deal about stealth and, as a result, the bedroom window went up and down all night long.
During late spring and summer, our window activity became “the Great Air-Conditioning Race.” That was a race in the truest sense of the word, because there was a winner. It was me, every Friday night and into Shabbos.
The antics began in May, back in the days when we actually had a spring season. I would set the thermostat on the air-conditioning unit to a cool 66° or 68°. Before long, Hubby would complain that the house felt like a meat locker. Accordingly, he would reset the number the minute I walked into another room. It never took long before I began to feel uncomfortably warm. I would rush back, check the thermostat, and lower the setting once again. That created another temperature change, which wasn’t immediately noticeable. But Hubby would eventually realize what I had done. He usually caught on when his teeth started to chatter. It was an ongoing, if unspoken, battle.
In an attempt at compromise, my better half would occasionally propose that we discuss the situation, which we did. But it was a mistake on his part, since there was no arguing with my explanation: “You can put on a sweater if it’s too cold for you, but there’s a limit to how much I can take off when it’s too hot for me.” That effectively ended the discussion, and Hubby inevitably put on a sweater.
Things were considerably worse at night. In July and August, when the heat and humidity became unbearable for me, Hubby often came to bed dressed like Nanook of the North, wearing fleece-lined pants and a hooded sweatshirt. And there were times he made good use of the hood, slipping it over his head. Occasionally I wondered why he wasn’t wearing gloves and a scarf, but I never brought it up. I didn’t want to give him any ideas.
The sole exception to this game with the AC thermostat in the warmer weather was on Shabbos. Then, I always came out ahead! Late on Friday afternoon, while I was busy in the kitchen, Hubby would set the air-conditioning thermostat to any number he desired. I knew what he was doing, but I always pretended not to notice. I would give him a kiss before he left for shul, and as soon as the front door closed behind him, with minutes yet to spare before it was time for candle lighting, I would lower that thermostat to my favorite number. When Hubby would arrive home more than an hour later, the candles were lit, it was well into the 25-hour Shabbos period, and there was nothing he could do about touching the thermostat and resetting the temperature. I was in heaven!
Comfort wasn’t the only consideration. In the winter, Hubby didn’t put up a fuss when the heat was set lower, because there was the economic factor to consider. It was only raising the bedroom window that he objected to. In the warmer months, the window was never a factor. It was only the AC unit that mattered. When it was set to a low number, Hubby would look at me but he didn’t really see me. I believe what he saw were dollar signs; and understandably so. Due to my insistence on keeping the house as cool as possible from late May until early October, our electric bills were out of sight. It wasn’t a perfect situation by any means, but my comfort was more important to me than our electric bills—possibly because, back then, I didn’t pay the bills.
This summer will mark four years since I lost Arnie. I’m never quite clear on whether they have been four long years or four very short ones. My feeling about this painful period varies depending on how I feel at any given moment. Right now I’m thinking of it as being short years. My thought is “Wow, in just four short years, I’m better able to tolerate high temperatures.” The change in my internal body thermostat has been gradual. It was just this past winter that, while keeping the heating thermostat at the same number that we always did, I didn’t feel the need to open the window. Hubby could have gone to sleep in normal PJs and wouldn’t have needed extra protection from the cold.
Reluctant as I am to acknowledge them, these dramatic changes relating to my tolerance of heat may be a function of age. Whatever it is, I no longer find heat quite so intolerable and, as a result, have begun to keep the AC thermostat set at numbers that I once considered ridiculously high. Arnie Berman would have loved it! My previous disregard for high electric bills, or for any other type of bills, no longer exists. I now proudly tell myself that I’m economizing.
Hubby must love the irony. Any day now I’m waiting for his commentary. I can hear it already. “Oh, so now that you’re in charge you’re economizing!” v
Hannah Berman lives in Woodmere and is a licensed real-estate broker associated with Marjorie Hausman Realty. She can be reached at Savtahannah@aol.com or 516-902-3733.