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The Californian

Californian contributing columnist Steve Flores.

Coming home to a cool house after a hot August day picking grapes in the fields was a welcoming thought. It was the early 1960s and I remember record heat seemingly every day. The swamp cooler on our modest southeast Bakersfield home brought minimal comfort for my siblings...but comfort nonetheless.

Our maternal grandmother who came to live us would often ask Willie and me to help when we got home from the fields. The "help" was to get the "manguera," water hose, on the roof and water down our swamp cooler. It was the only way to temporarily spell relief from the oppressive Bakersfield heat.

Although the right size and weight, my youngest brother, Bobbie, was too young to toss up on the simmering roof. We thought about it, and thankfully never did.

So it was up to brothers Ralph, Andy, Willie and me to man-up and do our "manguera" drill on the roof. One of my brothers, the one who lost at Rock-Paper-Scissors, would stand on the other's shoulders and then put his bare feet into the hands of the two other brothers. As we pushed his feet up, he would then pull himself onto the roof. Then the lucky brother would do the hot-roof dance and as quickly as possible scurry to a tiny sliver of swamp cooler shade.

It takes great skill to blindly toss up a "manguera" and have a direct hit on your brother. Remember, he isn't moving out of that tiny sliver of swamp cooler shade to retrieve anything. It had to be a direct hit.

We soon realized that the comfort of a swamp cooler came with a financial cost.

I remember my dad walking into the living room with all the kids and grandma watching TV. He turned off Gilligan's Island, holding the PG&E bill in his hand and announced that $18 was way too expensive to pay each month. We had to cut down. One of the ways he tried was to reduce use of our beloved swamp cooler. So regardless of how hot or humid the summer nights were, we weren't allowed to leave the swamp cooler on after we all went to bed.

Remember the "manguera" roof SWAT team? Our brother team skills turned from the roof to the ground. Late at night while everyone slept, and only when the heat was unbearably hot, we devised our plan.

First, we had to make sure dad was sound asleep. That meant heavy-duty snoring. Second, it required Ninja stealth-like skills and nerves of steel. We couldn't make a noise. We knew if dad woke up, the heat would really be on. I always pretended I was James Bond as I snuck down the short hallway from our bedroom to the bathroom.

With the bathroom door open, the light dimly illuminated the hallway where the swamp cooler on-off switch hung. We waited. One brother would be by the switch. The other would be by dad's doorway making sure he was still snoring. The other would be in our bedroom doorway making sure it was a clear path as we prepared to squirm back to our shared beds.

Our eyes all locked and we held up five fingers in the hallway. We silently began the countdown: Five, four, three, I flushed the toilet as my brother simultaneously hit the switch, masking the sound of the noisy swamp cooler starting up.

We quietly returned to our soon-to-be cooler beds.

Funny thing is my dad never mentioned the swamp cooler being on in the morning. We don't know if he wondered if he just didn't remember turning it off before he went to bed. Or that he was always awake during our late-night Navy SEAL team-like escapades and simply marveled at our brotherly teamwork and creativity.

I wish I had my dad's $18 PG&E bill now.

My brothers and I are still a great team, men I love beyond words. If someone ever decides to have a "manguera" rooftop toss competition, bet on the Flores brothers to win. No doubt.

Have a safe and cool summer.

Email contributing columnist Steve Flores at His work appears here every third Monday; the views expressed are his own.