My family and I affectionately call our childhood home, “the 6thdrive house.” For most of my adolescent years, it was a tan home with dark brown trim shaded by a large ash tree. The backyard had partial grass, dirt and a large swimming pool that felt like bath water in the summer; minus where the palm tree laid shadow in the deep end. The house, at the time, was situated on the edge of an affluent school district relative to where we lived prior in the city. I have fond memories of our home and although we were fortunate to live in that house we occasionally had to leave. Mostly because we didn’t have an air conditioner.
You don’t realize how important an air conditioner is until you don’t have one in the middle of the desert summers. Swamp coolers don’t work when it’s as hot as it gets in our summers. Trying to wet the unit only works when it’s less than a 100 degrees and we consistently maintained temperatures well above that. It could be worse though, my Mom grew up in a one bedroom mud house, so it’s difficult to complain. Nonetheless, my Mom always sought to find us cooler refuges during the scorching days.
The library, dollar movie theater, and mall served as our oasis. My Mom would take us to the library on 19thavenue and let us read for hours. In my case, look and trace pictures. One summer she enrolled us in the Suns reading program where we received bookmarks of Suns players such as Charles Barkley, Dan Marjele and Kevin Johnson for every few books we read. Honestly, sometimes I would sit there with a book for a few minutes staring at pictures, run up to my Mom and say, “I finished reading.” She would sign my paper and I would go get another bookmark. To this day I have a collection of Suns bookmarks that I hustled from the Phoenix public library.
The mall was another place my Mom took us. Usually, we just sat around or went to the arcade to pretend we were playing video games. It was strange but as kids, we somehow always knew better than to ask for anything. I knew we didn’t have quarters to burn at an arcade, so I just grabbed the joysticks and watched the computer characters until I grew bored of the blinking “insert coin,” banner. I knew if I was going into a toy store that I would never walk out with anything at that moment. It just didn’t happen. One of the few times I remember walking out of the store with a toy was with my Aunt. When I was around 9 years old I spent a few weeks with my cousin, Uncle, and Auntie out near Laguna Dam. My cousin and I had mowed the lawn and cleaned up the yard a bit, an often unrewarded job around the 6thdrive house, so it was a special moment when my Aunt bought me that GI Joe. The mall was a great place to escape our house for a few hours but it still wasn’t as great as the dollar theater.
The dollar theater on Bell road was amazing. It was literally $1 to watch a movie. My Mom would load my sisters and me in our van. If we were going to the movies, we always stopped by Walgreens for one snack each. Peanut M&Ms was and still is my Mom’s favorite and became a crowd pleaser among us kids. Inside the theater was a lobby area selling overpriced food and drinks. We would wait for the movie attendant to call out the sitting of our movie. As you moved through the hall to the respective theater, there was a stream of lights that made you feel like you were about to jump to light speed. Once I got to the theater I always felt a rush of cold air slowly melting the sweat beads on my back. The cool air felt so good that you could barely hear and feel your feet sticking to the cement floors. Those were awesome summer days.
Eventually, we did get an air conditioner when I was 12 years old. But I can recall our childhood without the a/c and I appreciate it. You can also see some of our family social mobility. As kids, my Mom and Dad didn’t have a swamp cooler, my sisters and I had a swamp cooler, and my kids have an air conditioner. But I often wonder if that a/c will make my kids spoiled. I fear they will be unable to take the heat if they lack exposure because of my desire to give them more.