When I was in elementary school, when it was cool enough, back before styrofoam insulation and clear plastic covered every window of our house for years at a time, sometimes my mother would open the windows. I can only remember it happening on a handful of occasions.
I remember riding the bus home from school once and, when it pulled up to my house, seeing that the heavy wooden front door was open wide with the screen door visible behind it. I felt a jolt of happiness. The windows would be open. My mother must be in a good mood.
My parents' house usually smelled of stale air. My mother liked to keep the air conditioner cranked up and the house cold inside, but it still managed to feel stuffy. Just being inside it with its unnaturally dark rooms and cavelike dankness made me feel drained. From childhood to college, I remember having that feeling, like something in the house was sapping me of my energy. I think my mother felt it too. When she wasn't asleep, she often wanted to get out and go somewhere, and when we went out to dinner in my teen years, she was as loath to go home as I was.
On the rare occasions that my mother opened the windows, she also turned on the house's attic fan, which I can only vaguely remember because the last time I remember seeing it in use was when I was in elementary school. I remember a large metal vent in the ceiling that would open when the attic fan was on, allowing me to see the fan spinning behind it, whipping up what I remember as strong winds through the hallway. It was loud and powerful. It felt nice to be surrounded by so much moving air.
Sometimes when the windows were open, my mother even cleaned. This is one of my favorite memories of my mother. She put a Dolly Parton record on the big turntable in the family room and blasted the music through the house. Because closed doors and narrow doorways were tricky for my dad in his wheelchair, our house had an open floor plan back before it was fashionable. My mother hated how she had no way to close off portions of messiness to visitors, but the music carried well. I don't remember if she mopped or dusted or what -- I remember being too young to be of use myself, maybe four or five -- but she sang along to the music, and I loved it. She seemed happy and full of energy -- so rarely did she have any energy -- and it made me happy to be close to her with the music and the breeze playing around us. The air smelled fresh, and cleaning products always smelled better than the heavily clove-scented air fresheners my mother used to cover up the other smells of the house for company.
It's warm here today where I live now. I have the windows open, and the house smells fresh. I can hear birdsong and some of my neighbors talking outside, now that the drone of what sounded like a dozen lawn mowers and weed wackers has ceased. None of the lights are on because the sun makes it brighter in my white-walled home than any amount of electricity could achieve when I was a kid. I'm glad I don't live there anymore. The good days were too rare, and they were still worse than the bad days are here. Here I can clean and open windows whenever I want.