huff’n’ puff’n’ house
got new lungs around here this week. yup, ’s’true. this old house been wheezin’, coughin’, chillin’ too. so cold you went to bed in blankets, wrapped like wieners in a bun. slid your wiener self between sheets so cold even they had goosebumps.
then you pulled up covers–more and more feather down than on a flock of geese, so help me–and, what with all the layers, and the barely room for mouth, some nights you needed to insert a straw, bend it like a periscope, or maybe a chimney, so you could bellow in and out. or else the whole of you would be as blue as them there tootsy-toes.
well, heck, we just thought that was the way it was, when your house is old and it’s planted in the north. latitude 42, i think. means it is c-c-c-c-c-cold, come january nights.
turns out, our old furnace had gone and turned asthmatic. had cracks, besides, all over its coiled insides. poor thing couldn’t breathe another breath. made it through the coldest weekend yet, but then, come monday, it let out its last sad sigh.
i called the doctor, yes i did. they came and made a house call. (thank heaven, i would hate to be the one to load the furnace in the car, motor off to where the furnace clinic is, where they put up the stethoscope, listen close, then shake their sorry heads–hey lady, this ol’ bellows has breathed its very last).
mr. fix-it scurried down the stairs, black bag and muddy boots, besides, right there to where the gasping wasn’t, in the house’s stone-still underbelly.
and you know it’s not to show you something pretty when they call you down the stairs.
yoo-hoo, ma’am, can you come take a look? was what he said. more or less.
and then he showed me on the scope, five cracks, one bolder than the next.
gulp, said i, watching my tahitian fling go up in smoke and slither out the basement window.
he laid the news down straight and simple: you’ll need a new one, he said pointing to the house’s lungs deflated.
and so, we hemmed and hawed all day–make, model, power, price, they spun so many choices. everything but color (it came in only basic black; we now inhale in utter elegance). i tell you, i know more today about btu’s than i ever knew before.
and then, once they scared the dickens out of me, i tried real hard not to breathe (try that wheezy trick for 24 hours). told me, yes they did, carbon monoxide was surely leaking in the house.
but not to worry, they announced; until you hear the shriek from the alarm, you know it’s not too late. (to which the snide contractor–here to put in basement floor, of course; the timing could not have been much worse–he whispered: “by then it’ll be too late.” and then, i swear, he snickered.)
ahhh, but as i type today, i am nearly warm and toasty. as toasty as you can be when you are not a slice of rye.
we’ve all new lungs breathing in this house. and it is something very fine to know, at long last, that you stand a chance of sleeping through the night without awaking to pour hot water on your toes.
and all at once now, this old house feels rather, well, grownup, feels settled in its skin. as if, at last, we can lay claim to the whole of its pure essence.
you see, we’ve nipped and tucked since we moved in, but never really tinkered with the guts.
a house’s heart, of course, comes from all the ones who live there. its innards are the pipes and how they run, or don’t run. its lungs though–how it breathes–is pretty much the stuff of basic respiration. it’s windows cracked, doors swung open, and in the winter it is all that flows from what would’ve been, in days of old, a fine pot-bellied stove.
the days of stoves, i sadly note, are mostly too long gone. i do know a soul or two who heats her house with only logs. but me, i’ve succumbed to btu’s–i can now precisely tell you, 135,000 in every blessed hour.
like the pair of pillowed puffers buried in our chests, the breathing of our house is not something to which we pay much attention. until it’s no longer breathing in and out. or the breath is labored, cold as ice, i’m here to tell you.
but, as i’ve shivered in the frosty breath this week, i’ve come to know again: it is most essential, the moving in and out of air, the life that comes with oxygen exchanged, hardly noticed, wafting on the breeze.
and on this frigid freezing day, i blow a ring of holy smoke to the breathing all around: to lungs inside my chest, and big black sturdy new one huffin’ and puffin’ down in dingy cellar.
may all who enter here breathe deeply, wholly, warmly, this frosty winter’s day.
just a little tale today. nothin’ deep. unless of course you are stirred by stories of the thermal sort. have you ever been sans heat in the place you call your home sweet home? doesn’t take too long to thank God for simple things, like toes and fingertips that wiggle. by the way, God bless tony and bernie whose blessed hands got us warmth again, and breath-filled house.
p.s. since everyone likes to show their travel slides, i am showing you up above, the only snapshot i’ve got of what would’ve been my tahitian fling. it’s a furnace guaranteed for the next 10 years. come on over and warm your toes with mine. maybe we can play some beach songs and pretend we’re on the sands.
Isn’t it amazing that when you need it most, the dang thing gives up the ghost!
I remember when I lived in the cruel heat of the Phoenix Valley. In summertime, you simply cannot live without air conditioning unless you have a death wish. I recall the summer when our cold air turned to heat and we had to actually leave the house until the a/c man (an individual of rock-star status during the summer) decided he’d honor us with his presence only to charge us two arms and three legs to replenish the cool air and allow us to come home again.
As for Tahiti … maybe next year? Just pray that your a/c doesn’t decide to die, too!
Friday, January 25, 2008 – 08:22 PM
Well doesn’t your gratitude just bring back lovely growing up memories from upstate NY The rituals of shiny autumn days when Daddy would fell all the dead trees, and we’d all carry and stack the wood by the house. Learning how to split the big ones into kindling to get the fire started. And snow soaked clothes drying by the fire; watching the flames until late, tea kettle on top of the stove, blizzard going on in the night outside. The magical beauty of the faces of loved ones by firelight. Thank you; now I’m glowing with the memories! (PS, we also had a gas furnace, lest this sound too rustic…)
On another note, your warm relationship with your dwelling place makes me thing of Scott Russell Sanders’ “Staying Put: Making a Home in a Restless World” Isn’t that a great title?
Saturday, January 26, 2008 – 05:27 AM
just because i can’t let all the irony go undocumented, i must add that no sooner had i cleaned up all the mess from the new furnace installation, when the cat then decided to, um, make a mess allllllll over a old white quilt. well my trusty stain removers got out the stain, BUT when i put it in the dryer, every time i went to check it, thinking it HAD to be dry, it was still soaking wet. aha, i says, on third attempt, it is not that i am forgetting to turn on the dryer, it is that the dryer is making like the old furnace and giving up the ghost. so alas, in one week we have now replaced nearly every big bulky appliance in that ol’ newly re-floored basement. and yes the brand new carpet on the basement stairs they have now borne the brunt of the old furnace coming up, the new one going down, and just this afternoon, the old dryer coming up and the new one going down. if i have to haul out the vacuum one more time to clean up from appliance installers, i think i will sit down and cry. to say nothing of the big appliance piggy bank which is now thoroughly drained of every penny………(psssttt…do not whisper a word to the washing machine. i am praying it alone is willing to buck the dying trend….)
Tuesday, January 29, 2008 – 04:59 PM
Heavens to Betsy (as my grandma would say) … the appliance gremlins must have hunkered down in that old basement! Tell those baddies to vacate the premesis … Tahiti awaits!
Tuesday, January 29, 2008 – 07:52 PM
About that vacuuming…..Take a page from my domestic playbook and, well, let it, you know, wait awhile, even the stairs need it….You’ve certainly had your hands full this week! Thank goodness you have a new furnace for this crazy storm!
Tuesday, January 29, 2008 – 10:34 PM