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January 16, 2004

Let's hark back once again to the unpleasant times of the 1930s when, in the summer, red dust filled the air most days to compound the misery of the abnormal Oklahoma heat and the Great Depression, too. Thank goodness, those are consigned to history now and we have many new worries to occupy our time and our minds.

Fun was not hard to find, and we amused ourselves in countless ingenious ways. Some years during that wretched decade the usual summer heat arrived ahead of time bringing temperatures hovering in the upper 90s or higher. Air conditioning? There wasn't any, until the Roxy Theater installed a large evaporative cooler that lowered the interior readings by at least 20 degrees. My sister, Gloria, and I saw every movie that appeared on the screens at the Roxy and the Annex Theaters, because admission was only a dime or so. We thought that was marvelous, but on days of high humidity those dripping coolers were just more oppressive.

In some homes, including our apartment above the City Drug Store, folks used 12-inch electric fans in every room in a desperate but futile effort to make life a little more pleasant. Our drug store had several ceiling fans, which served pretty well most of the time. The final solution was the forerunner of today's refrigerated air systems. You find them everywhere today, but the first ones were expensive to buy and operate. They were generally used in the homes of wealthy people and in retail businesses where customers spent a lot of money. That did not include the City Drug Store.

My cousin, Fred W. Beers, moved here from Kansas City, Mo., to become general manager of the drug store after my Dad died in 1931. He was 15 years older that I was but he was like my big brother. On the warmer summer nights during that period, he and I would roll up some sheets, pillows and even a blanket and walk across the street to the Courthouse Park and sleep there. We were not the only ones. Several others knew that was a cool place to sleep and they joined us with their own pallets. The only problem encountered was when the sun came up. Then you needed to roll up your bedding and head for home, because at first light the initial wave of starlings and other unpleasant birds began arriving in the park's shady elm trees. They deposited little bird messes on whoever or whatever chanced to be below.

Other folks who lived in the downtown area found different ways of reducing the heat problem. For instance, the family of Dr. George Driver lived above the Davis & Son Furniture Store, where the First Bank building now stands. The Drivers had an apartment on the second floor, along with his professional office and the local Southwestern Bell Telephone operators. When it was bedtime in the Drivers' household, they climbed out windows on the east front of the building and spread their pallets on the metal awning that hung there. I don't think the starlings ever bothered them.

Trying times usually lead to unique solutions, and so it was in the sultry summers of the 1930s when Perry citizens looked for ways to beat the heat.