By Joe Rector

Over the weekend Amy dispatched me to purchase a quartz heater. Its purpose is to knock off the chill in our family room. At one time in life, I might have objected because heaters smothered me and had me taking off layers of clothes. Things are different these days because I sit and shiver as my hands and feet turn to blocks of ice. It’s not a state unfamiliar to me.

When we were small children, our house was heated with a coal-burning Warm Morning Heater. It was set in the living room on an asbestos mat. The efficiency of that stove left much to be desired. On especially cold mornings, a light coating of ice covered portions of the plaster walls and all of the windows.

The bedroom Jim and I shared was just as cold as the living room. We lay under a couple of quilts and bedspreads. When the time came to get up, we ran across the wood floors and came to abrupt stops in front of the stove. For a few minutes we’d turn ourselves from front to back in vain attempts to warm up. One side would be comfortable, but when we turned, it would again be painfully cold in no time. Jim and I retreated to our room where we grabbed clothes and shoes. In front of the heater we dressed for the day.

Breakfast during the weekdays consisted of cream of wheat or oatmeal with toast. Mother’s oven was an oversized appliance that could bake up to four pies at once. She’d open its door and turn on the broiler so that the heat from it would warm the kitchen. We boys were thankful to arrive at school where the classrooms were comfortably warm.

Daddy hired some men at the mill to dig out a basement so that a coal furnace could be installed. It changed our lives for the better in some ways, but the thing wasn’t the perfect heating source. The metal monster demanded food, and our older brother trod down the steps to serve coal into the stoker. Every few days he had to carry buckets of clinkers that Daddy had fished from the furnace.

The house was warmer than it had ever been, but it came with a price. The first time the furnace fired each year, it coughed smoke from every register. For the next couple of days the haze continued. At the same time, the fuel wasn’t the cleanest. We woke up, made a bee-line to the bathroom, grabbed a handful of toilet paper, and blew the black crud from our heads. Sure, we were warmer, but the coal burner contributed to headaches, sinus infections, and upper respiratory problems.

After Daddy died, Mother abandoned the furnace because she couldn’t and knew we wouldn’t keep the thing filled with coal. She had her brother Charles find good electric heaters for the rooms in the house. They blew warm air, but no area ever warmed up enough to be comfortable. We’d squawk when someone stood in front of the heater and blocked the flow.

Not until all of us left home did Mother have a heat pump installed. It didn’t produce enough “hot” air so Mother purchased a monster wood burning stove that had us throwing open every window in the house the first time it was fired up on a cold winter’s day.

Now, I’m like so many senior citizens who struggle with being just a little “chilly.” That’s where the new heater comes to the rescue. I have another one in my office, the other room where I spend hours at a time. However, when I go to bed, I want the room to be cool. Most nights, the window at the head of our bed is opened a little to let fresh, nippy air in. I don’t so much mind that morning cold air because our house can be quickly heated so that we are comfortable. I worry about the day that comes when my feet and hands turn to permanent ice cubes.