Tuesday, January 7, 2014

You can't lie when you play with coal...

The boiler furnace at Willow Manor is going tapocketa-tapocketa-tapocketa, trying unsuccessfully to keep up with the Polar Vortex of 2014. A polar vortex is also known as an Arctic cyclone, or my personal favorite, frigid twister. Everyone's objective this week is to keep warm. Washing dishes the old fashioned way never felt so good. I'm actually typing this wearing gloves.

Boiler furnaces are becoming obsolete. I have come to love the nostalgic pop and hiss of the radiators. It's a steampunk thing. Grandma's house in rural Indiana had a coal-fueled gravity furnace. Coal was delivered by a truck that backed up to the house, and dumped the coal down the shoot into the cellar. When the temperature dropped in the house, she called for one of my uncles to go down and shovel some coal into the furnace.

I would tag along. Being a lover of stones and bones from an early age, I couldn't resist the beautiful mound of coal in the corner of the cellar. Grandma strictly instructed me to stay away, but I was compelled by the iridescence, the chalkiness, and even more, the satisfying crunch when you climbed on it. As careful as I was about not being seen, somehow she always knew. I guess you can't lie, when you play with coal.

As diligent as Grandma was about keeping house, the coal dust settled on everything. Things were simpler then, but dirtier. Think Scout in To Kill a Mockingbird; that was me. I had dirty feet, knees, elbows, and hands, year round; this was okay. Kids didn't have to be clean, except for The Lord's Day, when we were starched and spit-polished, until we were unrecognizable. My red Kool-Aid mustache never came off. I wore it like a tattoo.


  1. Oh fun, I mustache you a question! LOL Gee whiz I know the feeling about keeping warm. Our schools were even closed for two days in a row here. So far so good on furnace and all working! Bravo for that. I had to laugh at the image of you typing with gloves (I've been there before!) Stay warm!

    1. The old Willow Manor boiler made it through the vortex...pocketa-pock!

  2. This came to mind: 'Frigid twisted sister'. Lord knows why, but I'm a bit twisted at times! Really enjoyed this trip down childhood's past!

  3. How lovely to fins you. Be warm … I enjoyed the reminisce.

  4. Stay warm, my friend. Love this post! I have been known to play with coal, too...

  5. did the kool-aid migrate and mutate into lipstick?

    warm weather kid, myself. cold on the California coast is laughable compared to that vortex ~

  6. Tess OMG! When I was very small in Michigan City, Ind. the coal truck came and dumped coal down the chute into the basement. It's good to hear memories of this wonderful time.

    I don't remember the coal dust or even them stoking it but that coal coming through the window..what a mess! In no time we got a brand new furnace that blew air, remodeled the basement and now it's just a memory and one we both treasure.

    Have a good Friday I loved the story! I look forward to Sunday.

  7. Oh, Tess, you do bring back memories!! Pull out the woolies and stay warm, my friend.

  8. Oh, Tess, you do bring back memories!! Pull out the woolies and stay warm, my friend.

  9. My cottage turns into a submarine in the wintertime. Or it sounds like it, anyway. Old, old furnace cranking hot water and lots of air through the pipes. Burble, burble, bloop, tick, tack, and somewhere underneath all that something that sounds like murmuring voices... all night while I try to sleep. I spent half an hour watching videos on "how to remove air from your heat pipes" on YouTube, only to find out that my ancient system is built exactly NOTHING like any of the systems in the instructional videos. So when I dream of being at the ocean, or under water, it's no surprise.

  10. P.S. Why does she have a bell on her ankle? So she can be found if she runs away?


Inject a few raisins of conversation into the tasteless dough of existence.
― O. Henry (and me)