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Heating Season

Sun, Nov 19th, 2000
Posted in

Monday, November 20, 2000

It has become a family mission to see how far into the fall we can get without using any LP gas for heat. As I begin this writing, it is the first of November and we have not turned on our furnace since last April. This is not a decision based on economics as much as it is based on stubbornness. The act of turning up the thermostat is, in our minds at least, giving in to winter and admitting that the warm season is over. I should probably make it clear that this mission is not necessarily shared wholeheartedly among all family members, just the two of us that have a vote. Those family members who have not reached the age of majority are required to put on another sweater.

We cheat a little bit because we burn some wood in the fireplace in our living room. It is much more a recreational fireplace than a heat source. I learned this soon after we moved into our house. Shortly before Christmas the first year we lived here, the electricity went off in a blizzard. I remember staying up all night putting wood into the fireplace to try to keep the house warm. The house grew steadily colder all night long. When morning was finally only a few hours away, I gave up, closed the fireplace doors and went to bed. When I got up, the house was no colder than when I went to bed. The fireplace produced a lot of heat, but it all went up the chimney.

Although the heat from our fireplace is mostly a warm illusion, the smoke produced by it is real. There must be a science to effective smoke-free fire building that eludes me. My technique goes something like this. First, I ball up a dozen pages of newspaper that always includes some coupons or recipes that my wife wanted to keep. With this for kindling, I ignite the paper with three or four matches. When the paper catches fire and the first billows of smoke pour out into my face, I remember that I need to open the damper that lets the smoke go out the chimney. Then I open all the doors and windows in the house to let fresh air in and smoke out. Then I try to restart the fire with more newspapers. I repeat these steps until finally there is a meager flame licking at some damp logs. About this time, goose-pimpled, blue-lipped children show up to beg me to turn up the thermostat, but by this time I am warm as toast from my efforts and not inclined to grant their request for warmth.

The memory of my maternal grandfather inspires me on our mission to deny the cold. Denying the cold was something he could not do. He was a janitor at Rochester Central High School. During the winter, it was his unenviable job to get out of bed at a terribly early hour to go to the school and fire the boiler. In the cold winter darkness, he walked five blocks to the school, fired the boiler and then walked home. He tried to go back to bed for a little more rest until rising at a still early hour to go back to work. As far as I know, he never failed at this task and never managed to fill the school with smoke.

Denial works for a while, but as I finish this writing it is November sixth. There has been no sun and a stiff wind all day. The house has been growing colder instead of warmer as the day has progressed. The thermometer reads fifty-eight degrees in the kitchen and the rest of the house is colder. My feet are chilly. My sweater is inadequate for just sitting around. I could fill the house with the smoky illusion of warmth, but I think it is time to let the LP genie out of his bottle and allow him to do the bidding of anyone clever enough to figure out the thermostat.

Wayne Pike

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