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Silver Threads: Who reset my thermostat?

Is it hot out here, or is it just me? (Notice that I’ve slightly changed this classic menopausal lament, because it’s to be hoped that air conditioning long ago solved the “in here” problem for those with change-of-life issues.)

I got to thinking about this Saturday at the wonderful Greek Festival at the orthodox church. As usual, everybody there seemed younger than I, but this year they also seemed to be a lot cooler. While I was sweating, they were, if not frolicking, at least maneuvering pleasantly in the 94-something-degree temperatures outside the church. My husband and I ate our delicious moussaka and dolmades inside.

The first time I noticed this tendency to boil over easily was when I was 60 and took an August week off from work to help move us into another house. I was picking up odds and ends that hadn’t made it into boxes for the professionals, loading them into my van, driving only a few blocks away to cart them into our new quarters. I noticed that the heat was punishing, but put it down to the fact that I rarely left my office at mid-day except to go a few yards to an air-conditioned car and from there into an air-conditioned restaurant.

But since then I’ve become certain that my thermostat has somehow been reset.

When I was 51, my husband and I went on a trip to China with a group of newspaper food writers. We flew to Shanghai — almost the same latitude as New Orleans — in July, armed with cool cotton clothing and Panama straw hats that rolled up for packing. Along the route from the airport to our hotel that evening, apartment dwellers had dragged lawn chairs out to the wide sidewalks and were sitting there talking, escaping from the heat inside. During mid-day sightseeing we were almost comfortable; there was plenty of shade to step into inside the Forbidden City and the Summer Palace. Our companions from places like Minneapolis, Buffalo and Pittsburgh were in trouble, though — gray-faced, dripping perspiration and miserable.

Nine years later, by the time of the move I mentioned, getting outside in the summer had become an ordeal for me, even on trips when you‘re willing to stretch to your limits. A friend and I went to England for Summer Academy, a study program for older folk. Our destination was a Jane Austen seminar at Exeter University, and while we were there a heat wave hit the UK, where New Orleans’ brutal summer temps are hardly to be expected, much less prepared for.

On a day’s excursion to Bath, I got the chance I had been waiting for to use a line from Kipling. Our teacher’s husband and academy assistant David, answering my grumblings about the weather, remarked that surely we should be accustomed to such heat.

“Oh yes,” I said. “But we don’t go outside at mid-day. You know, mad dogs and Englishmen …” He howled, then accused, “You’ve been waiting all week to say that!” I had.

When I was in college, all summer-time amusement began at noon, when we hit the tennis courts, the swimming pool and the stadium for tanning. We went to the Mississippi coast and to the Florida beaches and stayed out all day. (I have the spotted, wrinkled skin to prove it.) But we cared as little about the heat as we had when we were little children, hopping along the hot pavement into the cooler grass at the side on our way to the store for ice-cream cones.

My father-in-law never air conditioned his big French Quarter house, merely cooling the place off at night by hosing down the patio. His tenants had window units but he did not, claiming that once you got used to the frigid air, you had little tolerance for the temperatures outside. I’m sure he was right, to a degree (honestly, no pun intended), but something else has reset my thermostat. Can it be my advancing age?

I once thought I knew what a red-hot mama is. Now I am one.

Bettye Anding is a former editor of the Living section of The Times Picayune, for which she wrote “Silver Threads” until her retirement. Email comments to her at


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