Over the years my dad has told me many stories.
I’ve often asked him to tell me a story he’s told a hundred times, and I think he enjoys it himself. I know I do. He always acts surprised as though he hadn’t thought about the matter in years and is downright surprised I have an inkling of his past.
The wealth of poverty
When my dad was a boy, his family was very poor. This was in the 1930s during the Great Depression. For Christmas, he would get an orange, a bright sweet tangy gift, he and his four brothers and sister. And that was it: an orange. No need to wrap it. He would peel it and eat it and enjoy it for as long as it lasted, which wasn’t long. And his Christmas gift was gone.
He’s not a garrulous man, my dad. But when he drinks beer, he gets a-talking. With a little prompting.
Recently he riffed on pre-modern refrigeration. I was spellbound.
Around the 1870s, the invention of the refrigerator was claimed by many. But it was mainly the Germans who perfected the device, but others, including Americans, contributed to its evolution. In the 1890s, the first “modern” electrically-powered refrigerator went out for retail purchase. And by 1910 or so, it became a household item for the well-to-do.
Today a refrigerator can be found in virtually every home, in every retail store, in most garages and most especially in every garbage heap where, according to my dad, they truly belong.
The only thing more useless than a refrigerator is the salesman who tells you to buy one.
Now my dad was born in ’35 some half century after the refrigerator was conceived. But he didn’t hear the word “refrigerator” or “fridge” until grade school, and probably not even then. No, in his house there was no fridge. There was a cooler. Not an electrically-powered cooler but water-powered one. And it wasn’t even in the house. It was outside where it belonged, 30 yards or so from the back door, tucked under a copse of box-elder trees.
While the cooler should have been the envy of all the neighbors, it was not. Instead, “cooler owners” were seen as lower class and from the wrong side of the tracks even though there were no tracks for miles around in any direction.
Like everyone, the wealthy enjoy excesses of language, too.
Get your burlap on
Before I tell you why a cooler is superior to a fridge, let me tell you how it’s build and how it works. The cooler has two two mechanical parts. The main part is a discarded orange crate, and by orange, I don’t mean the color. No, the folks from Florida and California routinely exported citrus produce in wood crates. Which were 30 inches long, 15 inches wide, and about 15 inches deep. The crates were partitioned into two halves, resulting in two separate 15-inch compartments. To save on wood, the crates were built using slates, so when assembled the outside surfaces were latticed, leaving an inch or so between slats. Only the end pieces and the center partition were solid wood.
A discarded orange crate was yours for the asking at any grocery store or yours for the taking, depending.
The second component is burlap. It takes a about 15-square feet of burlap to build a cooler. That sounds like a lot. But as burlap goes, 15-square feet was nothing. And in 1942 it was less than nothing at almost any feed and grain store. Again, depending. Converting a cooler from these two components is a ten minute job.
Here’s how: Fashion the burlap into two 75-inch by 15-inch strips. Stand the wood crate on its end and face the crate opening. Secure one 75-inch burlap strip to the top and both sides of the crate. Secure the other burlap strip to the rear and top. But do not fasten it to the crate front. Instead, allow 30 inches of burlap to hang over the front of the crate in the form of a flap. That’s your door. When finished, you’ll have a rectangular box, 30 inches tall, 15 inches wide and 15 inches deep, with two 15-inch square shelving units for storage, all covered in burlap.
It’ll look like a Wookie with no head, arms or legs.
Now find a shady spot for the cooler. Elevate it three to four inches off the ground using bricks or two-by-fours. Now for the engine that powers the cooler. Using a simple garden hose attached to an outside spigot, secure the hose to the top of the cooler and run a slow but steady stream over the burlap, just enough to keep all the burlap wet.
Water temperatures are about 25-30 degrees cooler than the outside temperature. And as water evaporates, it cools even further. Now you have a cooler with 2.5 square feet of shelving to store bacon, cheese, butter, milk and eggs, and fruits and veggies.
Why your modern fridge is killing you
A water-powered cooler is superior to an electrically powered fridge. It’s cheaper, it’s free to obtain and free to operate.
People who use coolers instead of fridges live longer on average. Just look at the numbers. They will astonish you. The reasons for this are many. A modern refrigerator has ten times as much storage as a cooler. In addition to eggs, bacon, and cheese, etc., you’ll find a whole Walmart worth of crap: soda, ice cream, jam and other junk food that knocks people off before their time.
By contrast, the cooler only accommodates the essentials.
Plus a trip to the fridge is generally three to four steps. But a trip to the cooler is a couple hundred steps. So people with coolers exercise more. Equally important, they become better organizers so as to avoid repeated trips to the cooler.
Although the numbers aren’t high, people have been killed in tornadoes when a fridge was tossed their way. But not a single person has ever been killed by flying burlap. That’s an amazing thing to consider and it’s not made up.
How many children have suffocated when locked, by accident or design, in a fridge, abandoned or otherwise? And how many have been suffocated by burlap which, next to cheesecloth, is the most porous stuff on the planet?
And there’s this notion that cooler owners live “closer” to the Earth. That’s a good thing even if Martha Stewart didn’t say so.
Lastly remember when he had an ozone layer. It was almost destroyed by the refrigerator via its Freon coolant system. Who knows exactly how much damage it’s done, but I can promise you it’s been plenty. And how much damage has been done by trickling a little water over burlap cloth?