Under the category of gratefulness, add the oscillating fan. Ours is relegated to the attic most of the time, what with air conditioning, but I am sitting under it now, as our air conditioning has trouble keeping up in near 100 degree heat.
My fan is a aged but well-preserved Galaxy 16 inch, with a metal cage around the whirring blades and a sing-songy voice, the effect of its turning, turning, turning, like Stevie Wonder singing Ebony and Ivory which, come to think of it, are its colors. Galaxy makes me think of some Sixties-era wedding of space-age wonder to consumer products, a marketing ploy, and as I walk over to it to take a better look, I notice that the logo has a futuristic wave to it, as if to say “Buy me and you’ve arrived in the future.” Only now it’s more like back to the future.
I said aged. My Galaxy’s fan-cage, if that’s what you call it, is held together unceremoniously by a blue pipe cleaner which, now that I am up close and personal, appears to be hanging on for dear life. “I. . . can’t. . . hold . . . on . . . much . . . longer” I imagine it sputtering out in a plea for help. I readjust its arms, give it a squeeze of encouragement, rally it to the cause: “space, the final frontier,” and all that. Guardian of the Galaxy. It sighs. I’m grateful for its endurance, for its willingness to be forgotten most days, hibernating in the under-eaves of our third-floor and then called into near 24-7 service, a Galaxy reservist, air mover, oscillator. But it comes of sturdy stock.
I read that the first oscillating fan (can we just say, “O-fan,” for short?) was invented by a German (they seem to have invented most things), Philip Diehl, in 1907. Diehl married a sewing machine motor to fan blades in a polygamous union that produced a ceiling fan in 1887, adding a light to it later. Then, in 1904 he added a split-ball joint, allowing it to be redirected. (And this is beginning to sound much too technical. But stay with me.) This mutated into the oscillating fan in 1907 — the great great great great great-grand father/mother/person of my Galaxy, a fan company now owned by Lasko, which doesn’t sound nearly as interesting. Air was never the same.
My fan has the look of that Pixar lamp in its logo at the beginning of their films. Redirect it down and it looks sad; up, buoyant; straight on, steady and reassuring, like the stroke of your mother’s hand across your brow, back and forth, back and forth, excising worries and calming fears.
In Uganda, we slept on some occasions under an O-fan, like kings and queens savoring the stirred air, an unsleeping servant doing our bidding. “Keep it up, we would say,” until a power outage stilled its arms and it fell asleep, exhausted.
In childhood, I spent a couple summers in a friend’s family’s rented beach house on Pawley’s Island with no air conditioning under an O-fan — hot, then sweating until I lay in a pool, then remarkably cold as the fan played across sunburned boy-skin, awakening with a dried shellac salty to my lick.
When we first married we stayed in my wife’s parents’ home for a few weeks in Summer, the same fan pushing night air from the far-away Appalachian foothills across paper and pen, lifting the pages of my notebook, up and then down, up and then down, like a incessant child gently saying, “I am here, can we play, must you work, just for a minute, please?” I turn and smile, eyes shut, extend my arms and let it wash over me. “Yes, of course, of course.” It’s a Galaxy. Timeless. Carrier of the past.
I told my wife about my fan just now, in a prayer, before sleep. She said, “You mean my fan?” Of course. Yes, of course.