I DECIDED to give my family the gift of heat.
After holding off until mid-December, I fired up the furnace. Or tried to.
Early this week I turned the hall thermostat up to 70 degrees, and waited for the feeling of well-being that comes over me when I hear hot water coursing through the household radiators.
I told one of my kids that in no time he could throw off the insulated sleeping bag he had taken to wearing around the house. Pretty soon, I told him, you can snuggle up to a radiator.
It was a promise I couldn't keep. I waited and waited and waited for heat. The furnace and its affiliated devices made all the appropriate, heat-is-a-comin' noises. The gas meter clicked. The pump that moves water through the radiators hummed. But nothing got warmer.
The furnace had been inactive for so long it seemed to have forgotten how to do its job.
Since I couldn't coax the furnace into action, I had to summon someone who could, Coleman the plumber. Shortly after Coleman and his assistant, Bill, planted themselves in front of my furnace, they began yanking out old parts and putting in new ones.
Watching these guys labor reminded me of the similarities between plumbers and dentists. Both work with their hands. Both have to manipulate tools in small spaces. And nine times out 10, when you see either your plumber or your dentist, you are in distress.
My plumber told me what procedures had been performed on my furnace. But I can't say that I grasped the details. I think "thermocoupler" was mentioned.
What I clearly understood was that once the new parts were in place, not only did the furnace make noise, it also produced heat.
Grateful members of my family soon commented on how pleasant it was to wake up in a warm house and to be able to eat breakfast without wearing a coat.
Until the furnace incident, I had felt pretty smug. Throughout the fall the weather had been unusually mild and I had been mentally calculating the money I had been saving by refusing to turn on the furnace.
Now I have the feeling that any savings I might have racked up will be wiped out by the cost of furnace repairs. It might have been a warm autumn, but it is a cold world.
I am also aware that some people, including members of my own family, think that my trouble with the furnace was "payback" for years of being such a Scrooge about the heat. I bristle at the comparison. First of all, as I remember the Charles Dickens tale, Ebenezer Scrooge was a skinflint and heated with coal. I use natural gas.
Moreover, I think the furnace trouble was part of a much larger, cosmic pattern. That would be the "something-expensive-always- breaks-right-before-Christmas" syndrome. It works something like this: The money that you have planned to spend on some holiday indulgence, such as fur-lined underwear, is suddenly siphoned off by the untimely demise, a week before Christmas, of the clothes dryer.
Viewed from this perspective, the recent near-death experience of our furnace was inevitable. Now that it is behind us, I am ready for a warm, if not fur-lined, winter.
Pub Date: 12/19/98