Everyday Holiness by M. Regina Cram
It was one of those bitterly cold spells when the mercury hovered around zero. One morning in the middle of this arctic freeze, my husband Peter and I awoke to find that we had no heat.
To be more accurate, we had no heat upstairs. We fiddled with the thermostat and changed the battery but the baseboards remained icy cold. Our bedroom registered a chilly 41 degrees.
A delightful repair guy spent two hours trying to diagnose the problem. Was it a furnace malfunction? A thermostat failure? Why only one heating zone and not the other two?
I was engrossed in work when the guy tracked me down to announce his findings. “You’re not gonna believe this,” he began with a smirk. “Ever since the system was installed in the late 1970s, the upstairs thermostat has controlled the downstairs heat, and the downstairs thermostat has controlled the upstairs heat.”
Seriously? The system had been reversed for 35 years and we never noticed? What does that say about us? It reminds me of the married couple who accidentally switch the electric blanket controls so he keeps lowering the heat on his already freezing wife while she’s spiking up the heat on a husband who’s sweltering.
And people think we’re such a nice, normal family.
I’m pleased to report that our heating system is now properly configured and keeps us toasty warm. Nevertheless we continue to hear complaints about the other end of the spectrum: we have no cooling system. Growing up, our kids insisted that we were pretty much the only house on the planet without any air conditioning. Maybe even the universe.
I’d just roll my eyes. “This is New England,” I’d say with exaggerated patience. “Heat is a necessity. Air conditioning is a luxury.”
Yeah, right, Mom, was the typical reply.
One scorching summer day years ago, as the kids and I climbed into our hot minivan, a neighborhood child looked on. He urged us to turn on the A/C. “My car doesn’t have A/C,” I replied as I settled the youngest child into her car seat. The neighborhood kid gawked at me. “Why don’t you get it fixed?” he queried. “Because it’s not broken,” I explained. “This minivan doesn’t have air conditioning.” The kid appeared to have difficulty wrapping his mind around this concept, as if I had announced that I didn’t believe in eating. I recited my mantra: “This is New England. Heat is a necessity. Air conditioning is a luxury.”
I didn’t add that people lived for millenia without air conditioning.
He walked away, bewildered.
Many years later as the kids began to move out on their own, Peter and I spent an evening brainstorming about our future. We were tired of raking and shoveling and mowing so we mused about downsizing. I grabbed a paper napkin and sketched a possible floor plan for my ideal small home. Unfortunately, I have the artistic skill of a kumquat so my drawing looked less like a blueprint than the diagram of a beer pong tournament.
Along the margins of the napkin we scribbled our wish list for a new place. Peter’s number one priority was that it be above the 500-year flood mark. What can I say? He’s into weather. Next on his list was air conditioning. A/C didn’t make my list at all.
When we showed our drawing to our 18-year-old daughter Torrie, she added her own priorities: hot tub, ocean view (we live 40 miles from the nearest salt water), trampoline room and the original Mona Lisa.
Years passed and we continued to muse. The day finally came when Peter weeded one garden too many, so, with many hurrahs from my corner, we put our house on the market.
We bought a small home on a sleepy lane near the center of our town. It has many of the items on our wish list, although Torrie may have to wait a while for the ocean view and the Mona Lisa. And yes, it has air conditioning.
The sad thing is that I’m quite sure my body will acclimate to air conditioning, which will lower my tolerance to hot weather.
The good news is that we sold our house with its reconfigured heating system. The new owners can deal with the 17th century torture chamber, also known as lack of air conditioning.
Regina Cram lives in Glastonbury and is a freelance writer. She is the author of Do Bad Guys Wear Socks? Living the Gospel in Everyday Life.