Peterson: Cold showers fall victim to strange summer

Most years, from Memorial Day through Labor Day, I take cold showers because the heat is unrelenting.

From the minute you wake up until you plop into bed at night, it is hot. Air conditioning has been a huge relief – this is the first house that has had central air, and it is hard to describe how good it feels to walk inside from 90-degree, sun-bearing-down-on-you, humidity-making-your-clothes-stick heat to the cool of 76 air-conditioned degrees.

For the first 13 ∏years of my life, I lived in Minnesota, and it just doesn’t get that hot for that long in the Twin Cities. And kids are more immune to the heat. I barely knew anyone who had air conditioning, outside of stores. So I didn’t know any better.

But the heat still affected me. I remember only two weddings I served in the summertime with my best friend, Stephen Schloesser. Altar boys wore cassocks – long-sleeved black robes that covered you from the neck down to your ankles and had a hundred buttons – and surpluses – loose white tops worn over the cassock.

St. Augustine Catholic Church, which was huge, did not have air conditioning. And, as I look back at it, I did not tolerate heat well. Wearing altar-boy garb made me only hotter during those summertime weddings. Once, I just collapsed during the wedding service; the other time I stumbled out of the sanctuary to the sacristy to regain my bearings.

Do that now, and everything probably stops over liability more than concern for the just-fainted altar boy. Then, you picked yourself up, with a little help from a groomsman, and the wedding went on. After doing that twice, I turned down summer weddings, even though the wedding party tipped the altar boys generously.

Then we moved to southeast Iowa, where in July and August, and even into September, it is not unusual for the temperature to register in the low 100s. And you could bet that cool days in July and August were in the high-80s, if it wasn’t in the 90s, and we didn’t have air conditioning.

As much as I love Iowa, in the summertime, temperatures are unbearable in the south.

If you are outside working in the heat, you sweat profusely, and that cools the body. And because your clothes are supposed to be wringing wet, and everyone you are working with smells as bad as you do, the heat doesn’t make as much difference. I never passed out working in the heat, and I worked plenty of farming jobs over the years. You were meant to sweat.

But as soon as you got into town after work or on weekends, the heat would eat you up because clothing isn’t supposed to cling and your anti-perspirant/deodorant isn’t supposed to give out in the heat and humidity.

As an adult, my tolerance for heat has only diminished.

The best summer of my life was in 1981. I had just graduated from the University of Iowa, and I just got my first job as a newspaper reporter and editor at a weekly in Thorp, Wis., which is on the edge of the Northwoods. Every night that summer, I needed a blanket to cover me to keep me warm. It was perfect.

Summers since then in northern Illinois, a couple of hundred miles from the Northwoods, are not so cool. And most recent summers have been Iowa hot.

But it took 40-some years to figure out how to beat the heat. Well, not really beat it, because it is a war you cannot win, but you can claim victories on the battlefield of heat and humidity.

I discovered cold showers about 10 years ago.

And there is no quicker way to cool down than to step into a cold shower. In Woodstock, I’m guessing the city water temperature is about 55 degrees, and it’s not that cold once you get used to it. It’s bracing and refreshing and cooling. Just let the water run over your head, and you chill fast. It’s like jumping into Lake Michigan or Geneva Lake. Once you get used to the water, it’s not so bad.

But this summer has been a strange one, and many of the days have been cool, punctuated by heat spikes. And I’ve taken only a few cold showers, breaking my Memorial Day to Labor Day cold-shower routine that has been a part of my life.

I’m not complaining. I kind of miss that jump into the lake that the cold shower provided. But not so much that I’m going to take the plunge regardless. I need to be pushed.

• Dick Peterson, who lives in Woodstock, is a mental-health advocate, freelance writer and former Northwest Herald Opinion Page editor. He can be reached at

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