One of my pet peeves is when people leave a door to the outside open when our heat is on.
My youngest son will sometimes do it when we’re headed out together. He doesn’t shut the door to the garage because he assumes I’m right behind him when I say, “I’ll be right there.” And sometimes he jumps the gun and opens the garage door.
When I say, “I’ll be right there,” it usually means I’ve just got to gather my wits (coat, drink, snack, whatever…sometimes use the bathroom) before we’re going.
So, it might not be that long but there is definitely a period of time where the door from the house is open to the outside world and in my head, all I can see is a cyclone of paper money, whirling right out the door.
Other family members do it all the time. They are just waiting for the dog(s) to come back in or their hands are too full between trips in and out or “it’s just for a minute” or …I don’t know…I honestly can’t imagine why anyone would consciously do this.
Because heat costs money.
And when the heat is on in this house, it is because it is cold outside. And when it is cold outside and the door is open, the heat – money – gets sucked right out. If I am standing next to the door and I feel a draft, it makes me think about money transfer. I don’t even leave the door to our uninsulated attic open.
It is because I know what it is like to be cold. Truly cold.
I do not go anywhere in my car without a coat (I might not be wearing it, but it is in the car) and a blanket in winter. And appropriate shoes. You never know: What if your car broke down and all you were wearing was gym clothes and sneakers? YOU WOULD BE COLD.
The other day I was driving my youngest to his friend’s house. He had on joggers and a sweatshirt and sneakers. I looked at his feet and said, “You’re wearing sneakers.”
He said, “Yeah. So?”
I said, “It’s snowing. There are a couple of inches of slush on the ground.”
“Well, I’m not walking.”
“Well, what if you had to? What if our car got stuck and I needed you to push? You have no idea what it’s like being truly cold and not being able to warm up, do you? You know, heat is a luxury.”
All that before we left our driveway.
“It is,” he agreed.
Then I began the bit about how ‘when I was a kid.’
I would have never dreamed of going to school without a coat. I understand why a lot of kids don’t nowadays. They don’t have lockers assigned to them. There is no place to put a coat. And on the more entitled end of the spectrum, they go from warm house, to warm car, to warm school (for those kids that get chauffeured all the way) or to warm school bus every morning (for those who get a ride to the bus stop because their long driveway is icy and the bus stop is ¼ mile from their front door and it’s pitch black out when the bus comes).
We walked a lot when I was a kid (and no one ever got a ride to the bus stop). I don’t recall anyone not wearing a coat. We used to wear hoodies under either our letter or leather jackets, depending on which group you were part of. We wore hats, gloves, and appropriate footwear.
I didn’t tell my son all that, but here is what I said as we drove down the street.
“When I was a kid, we couldn’t afford the oil to heat our house. You know those plug-in Christmas candles that people put in the windows? Like that house there (I pointed to a house on our street that had single white lights in every front-facing window)…
“My mom would take one of those and duct tape it to the wall with the bulb right under the thermostat, so the sensor would think it was really hot in the room and the furnace would not kick on.
“I was always cold.
“You think you don’t want to get out of bed in the morning? Imagine if the temperature was just-above-pipes-freezing in your house?”
“I would hate that,” he said.
“Yeah, it was awful.”
Then I told him about how we didn’t have a shower in the drafty old farmhouse with the Christmas candle duct-taped to the wall. We had to take baths, and there wasn’t even a shower curtain, and the water pressure and temperature changed if the people downstairs used the water, which I think they did on purpose because our families didn’t like each other.
We had a woodstove in that house, right in the middle of the kitchen.
Now that I think of it, who in their right mind has a hot stove smack dab in the middle of the busiest room in the house – right next to the table where we all sat – with no barrier around it?
We used to heat up bricks on the wood stove and then wrap them in towels and put them under our sheets to warm up our beds.
In our next house, we also had a wood stove in the living room. We were not allowed to turn the heat on but sometimes when we came home after school and were cold, we did anyway. Once we forgot to turn it down before mother came home and got in so much trouble. Grandma’s boyfriend owned property where we would go to cut down trees. The adults used a chainsaw to cut trees down and into manageable sized logs. We brought the logs back home where Uncle and I would have to use a two-man saw to make woodstove sized logs, which we then split with an ax. I was 12 and Uncle was nine. Then we had to stack the wood and haul it into the house whenever we needed it for the woodstove. We used to have to tie sections of the newspapers into knots to use to get the fire started, too. It made my hands super dirty. That is why I want nothing to do with wood stoves or fireplaces ever again.
“I liked the fireplace in our old house,” my son volunteered.
“Yes, me, too. Because it was electric. It was warm and gave the feeling that there was a fire (because we had a mantel built around it) but it wasn’t messy or dangerous and didn’t involve manual labor.
We have a wood stove in our current house and we have lived here going on seven years and never lit a fire in it and I don’t ever intend to. I still cringe when I remember a terrible time when there was a blockage in our chimney that caused smoke to back up and spew into our home all day when we were at school. When we got home that day, smoke poured out of the front door along with the dog and cat.
I guess we didn’t have smoke alarms. Who doesn’t have smoke alarms in their home!?
I relayed this story to my son. “Everything smelled like smoke. All my clothes smelled like smoke. I went to school the next day and smelled like smoke (I don’t know why it didn’t occur to me to stay home). I was a freshman in high school and I wanted to die when people in every class wondered ‘what’s that smell?’ I am sure you can imagine just how horrible this would have been.” (He is a freshman in high school. I didn’t tell him about the mean girl who didn’t stop saying, "I smell smoke" for months after this, even though it couldn’t have been possible: Not only did we have a remediation company come in and clean everything, but also since I was responsible for the family laundry anyway, I made sure that when I washed mine, I left it all in the basement. I would run from the shower, dripping wet to the cold basement to get dressed and bolt out the door (with wet hair) to school before I had a chance to collect a stench. I figured it was better to be freezing cold and smell good than kind of warm and smell like smoke.
“I think you should write about that, Mom.”
And so here we are.