Last night we were invited to a friend’s home, and it was designated Family Movie Night. In all fairness, their home theater is the coolest place to watch movies, on this side of the Mississippi. Incidentally, we watched our first home theater 3D movie: A Christmas Carol (2009), and—in no uncertain terms—100% fully awesome. On the thirty minute drive home, our van displayed the outside temperature of 3°—burr, cold!
The following morning, I was roused from a deep slumber with the following words from my wife: “the living room is really cold, and the thermostat batteries have died overnight.”
Believe me—as I’m in the process of recalling this story several days past—those are words that you never want to hear on the coldest night of the year. I bet you know where this story is going now.
Donning a nice and heavy sweatshirt, I confirmed the death of said batteries, and began the prompt replacement of two tiny AAA energy capsules. The thermostat illuminated as I placed the unit back onto the wall. Words that you want to hear (or see) on the coldest day of the year display in bold letters: HEAT ON. Good to go?
Hands placed in the radiator confirm cold fins, and the absence of heat—with my limited HVAC training (to be understood as NONE), this is not good. I know that much, at least.
Over the next few hours, I perform numerous Internet searches, homeowner self-diagnosis routines, and psuedo-voodoo chants around the ancient furnace; although, the heating issue is still, well, an issue. Several rounds of texting to my friend, Mister Plumber, confirms that my heating situation is definitely perplexing; he promises to visit my home before the evening’s out, to determine the issue for himself, in person.
The remainder of the day is chilly, and we run two space heaters on the effected floor. Here’s the great news: the defective heating is isolated to only one floor, that of the corresponding dead thermostat. The other two floors in my home are controlled by their own thermostat units, maintaining comfortable heat levels.
By 9:00pm, Mister Plumber arrives, performs several what-if troubleshooting scenarios, and finally determines the most probable cause for our heating quandary: a possible frozen pipe, somewhere in the radiant heating loop, specific and isolated to that floor alone. He suggests heating the garage area—located directly belong the cold-as-nails floor—with space heaters to encourage the pipes to warm and thaw, thus flowing hot water back into the circuit once more.
He drives me to his shop to retrieve additional space heaters, and we return within the hour to place them within key locations in the frozen garage area. For the duration of the evening, the heaters output a significant source of warmth.
Within the initial period of worrying and waiting, I vow to sleep on the couch overnight. At least on paper, my goal is simple: operate the space heaters overnight, keep watch over the units on the living area level, and periodically check on the two units in the garage which are set to operate on full power. Bundling in several layers of clothing, and couch blanketing, I set in for the night. An alarm is set on my iPhone for two hours into the future.
Fully fueled with doubt and concern for my home—including the occupants within—my night’s rest is anything but restful. During every other hour of the midnight span, my alarm wakes me from the cold leather couch where I perform the duties of a father and husband: don my Steelers slippers, check the thermostat temperatures around the home to ensure that it’s not too cold, walk down to the garage to check that the two space heaters are operating properly (hovering temperatures around 55°), and simply confirm that nothing has caught on fire.
My bone-chilling situation feels oddly familiar, as in something that I once learned, or someone that I may have once been.
I’ve had all day to think about the following insight, and I believe that today is the most logical narrative to place an important childhood recollection. While the memory doesn’t require extensive analysis, regret, or resentment, it remains as one of my most memorable life lessons learned.
Much has been said, throughout this project, about the circumstances in which I grew up, specifically related to my childhood home, and this story can piggyback upon previous stories to paint a more comprehensive picture of my childhood.
The old brick farmhouse featured multiple layers of of charm and character—from wrap-around porches to extensive woodwork—while exhibiting a proportionate level of archaic qualities, including: single-pane windows, complete lack of insulation, and a temperamental paleolithic oil-based furnace.
During this era, my family could have also been defined as financially-challenged, and seemingly short on important resources such as household heating. As a result, the winter months spent within the brick walls of our home where usually brutal. Typically, the entire house registered as TOO DARN COLD, with the only exception occurring within the living room which was heated by a fireplace and blower unit—that was the only warm room in the house.
As I grew older, and began to date girls, I sought privacy while talking on the phone to my girlfriend (now, lovely wife). Bundled and blanketed in the family hallway, my warm breath was visibly hanging in the air, frozen slivers of conversations, with each utterance of spoken word. That was an essential component to where and how I grew up. And while I cannot change anything about my past, I can choose to remember and learn and live accordingly, based on those life experiences.
I would like to imagine that my childhood circumstances, atypical of my peer group of that age, shaped me into a more resilient person: someone who knows the definition of living under tough conditions, to genuinely know what it means to not have, and retain these memories as tiny energy capsules for when life just dishes out the worst.
Food for thought: not that I would wish the same childhood struggles upon my own children, but I wonder what type of adults they will inevitably become, based on a typical life of comfort and relative luxury.
When we tackle obstacles, we find hidden reserves of courage and resilience we did not know we had. And it is only when we are faced with failure do we realise that these resources were always there within us. We only need to find them and move on with our lives. ~ A. P. J. Abdul Kalam
On my return trip from the garage, I place my hands on the furnace piping (specific to the frozen circuit) to see if the mysterious pipe has thawed—a return of hot water through the cold copper pipe would indicate a repair in the system. Negatory, good buddy.
And I perform this process numerous times throughout the night, until daylight finally arrives, and my wife awakes to resume my overwatch duties.
For me, the rub about this entire debacle was caused by two dead batteries in a thermostat—that’s it, a completely preventable failure. There are more lessons to be learned and explored here, within this uncomfortable circumstance, beyond the obvious; but first, I need to achieve a few hours of restful sleep, in my own bed, beneath the warm blankets.