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Always Keeping Warm

The mild winter changed course this week. As I write this, today is arctic cold outside.

My jammies are warm, I’m staying home, and I’m keeping them on. The edges of the rooms feel chilly,

Being cold inside the house takes me back to childhood. My trip down memory lane is an icy trek.

I can still picture myself around age 9 or 10 sitting with my back grooved into the tepid corner radiator in our dining room. Mittens often straddled the top, boots slid underneath, both attempts at preheating. I always wore a heavy sweater in the house and Mom bought me slipper socks which I wore over woolen knee socks. A green wooden thermometer hung over the radiator, its presence prompted by my mother’s ongoing battle with the landlord. It never registered above 58 degrees in the winter. In the daytime.

Other parts of the apartment were naturally colder. My bedroom, on the northwest corner of the house, was listed as a refuge in the AAA Eskimo travel guide. From December to March, I only went in there to sleep. One good side benefit was that I was so intent on keeping all of me under the covers that the monster under my bed had no chance at me.

I remember the frigid winter night my mother sat on the side of my bed talking to me. An everyday prankster, she reached under my deep stack of covers to tickle my feet and could not believe what little ice blocks they were. “Oh my God, that’s it! I’ve had enough!” I watched her facial expression change from a teasing smile to redheaded fury in a split second. It was almost nine at night, but she stormed down the stairs and pounded on Mr. Flynn’s door. Their four little boys were all in bed, but she was oblivious to the hour as she gave him a piece of her mind. “My rent is always on time and I have begged you for some heat more times than I can count. We’re freezing up there,” she said. Or something like that. It cut no ice with him.

Mr. Flynn was not only tight as a tick, he honestly didn’t see the problem. Their first-floor flat, with our apartment overhead instead of a roof, was toasty for his family of six. Plus, Mrs. Flynn cooked big dinners every day making their kitchen practically tropical. Looking back, I realize now that Flynn simply hadn’t separated our heating from theirs. We were the upstairs to his downstairs, not a zoned individual space of our own.

We only lit our monster water heater when we needed hot water – for baths and laundry day. The rest we heated on the stove for speed. After I was old enough to light the water heater by myself, that kitchen alcove became a snug alternative to the dining room radiator.

Saturday morning, my mother’s laundry day, the kitchen was super cozy. The water heater radiated warmth while steam rose from the hot tub of our wringer washing machine. During wash cycles, Mom poached eggs, bread popped from the toaster, and my hot chocolate melted the marshmallows. I lived for the warmth of Saturdays.

On cold school day afternoons, I went home to check the heat situation before removing my jacket, snow pants, boots, mittens, tied-on cap and scarf. If Mrs. Flynn hadn’t started cooking dinner, there was no chance of residual heat rising to toast my tootsies. I headed for the public library downtown. If I wasn’t home when Mom arrived from work to our second-floor igloo, she knew where I was – downtown in the children’s reading room. I guess my love of books was the one benefit that came out of the Battle of the Radiators.

I don’t remember how old I was when Mom gave in to my teeth-chattering grumbling. She finally bought me a heating pad to preheat my bed for 20 minutes. I was NOT allowed to sleep with it on, but the allure of crawling into its warmth certainly had me looking forward to bedtime.

These days, being warm is one of my few mandatory comforts. Do I want to move to the warmer south? Absolutely not. For one overriding reason. Are you ready? You’re not going to believe it. I can’t take the heat! Warm in the winter, cool in the summer, and perfect at 70 degrees year-round. Is that really too much to ask? Even my smart car knows the temperature rules.

So, just for today, I’m staying in my jammies. And no, I’m not heading for Walmart.

Marcy O’Brien can be reached at Moby.32@hotmail.com.

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