Jacksonville, Florida is not the frozen tundra of the Arctic, but it does get cold there. Several times each winter it drops into the low twenties and even into the low teens and colder on occasion. During my childhood these frigid nights and mornings were not much more than an inconvenience for most people. Leave the outside faucets dripping, put the sprinkler on the citrus trees, and throw an extra blanket on the beds. But that’s not the whole picture, at least not the way I remember it.
It was getting into and out of bed that was the real challenge on frigid nights. Our house had no insulation, not in the walls or the ceiling. The only source of heat other than the kitchen stove was a kerosene heater in the hallway. Depression era parents saw no need to heat the house when everyone went to bed. To their credit they arose early to fire up the heater, most of the time.
On cold nights the challenge was getting out of my warm clothes, into my pajamas and into the bed; it was a race worthy of the Olympics. The sheets were frigid making the hair stand up all over my body. A Little heat could be generated by rapidly vibrating my legs between the sheets. The trick was to do it without raising the covers which would create a suction drawing cold air in and undoing the whole process. Then lie perfectly still and let my body heat do the rest.
When mom called and I awoke the next morning, if it was eighteen outside it was no more than twenty-five in my bedroom, or so it seemed. I would pull the spread off of my face and watch my breath rise toward the ceiling. Then I would pray for the rapture to take place before Mama called for the third time; it was the pitch in her voice that said you had better be up now that called forth the half-truth, “I’m up. I’m up.” Grabbing my stiff blue jeans and a shirt I ran to the heater. Place the cold jeans on the heater, warn one side a few seconds, turn quickly to warn the other, take a deep breath, pajamas off, jeans on with one movement if possible. Repeat the procedure with the shirt. Run back into the bedroom; grab shoes and socks, run back to the heater, finish dressing and wait for the call to come eat. And that’s the news from the Sunshine State.
I’ve lived in Minot, North Dakota in a drafty Victorian house when it was forty below zero and been more comfortable than I was getting up on a north Florida winter’s morning. I am thankful for central heat. Here in east Tennessee we have zone heating. I keep my three thermostats set on 65 except when I am in a zone for an extended period then I raise it to 68. We also have a couple of gas fireplaces that work well to heat the TV room and the den, leaving most of the zones closer to 65. There is a little of my depression era parents in me, but I do have a space heater in the bathroom. Call me crazy, but I want it warm when I change clothes, no matter what the cost.
February 15, 2010