Saturday, November 14, 2009
The Virginia Houses
Why is it so cold in here? This house is the worst house I’ve ever lived in temperature-wise. This and the Amityville Horror House. I thought it was going to be better when we moved here but the only thing that’s different is there are less cold rooms. I’m never comfortable. It’s cold in the winter and hot in the summer. I don’t know which is worse. Well, yeah. The cold is worse. I can’t take the cold. Let me ask you something. Why does seventy degrees feel nice when you have the air on during the summer, but it’s downright freezing in the winter? Brrr. And why is it colder in the house than it is outside? It’s not right when you step out onto the porch and say, “Oh.” Surprised. And take off your jacket.
It wasn’t like this in the Jackson house. People came inside in the summer and thought I had the air on. I never put the air on. In fact, we really didn’t have any air conditioning except for a window unit in our bedroom that was used so little, when you turned it on, leaves and dead beetles blew out. And one in the kids’ bedrooms so no one could say I was a mean mother. In the winter, we never even turned the heat on! We started the woodstove at the beginning of the season and never let the fire go out, emptying the ashes from the door down bottom, and it heated the whole house. Ah, it was toasty warm in there. And yet we used very little wood. Good thing because we used to have to buy wood in New Jersey. If we used a cord of wood in that house the whole winter, it was a lot. It was a good house and a good stove.
The little bungalow we lived in on the Jersey Shore and the Oklahoma ranch were the same way. Warm in the winter, cool in the summer. But these Virginia houses… They’re about going to kill me. If you hear on the news that they had to carry a frozen body out of a house that had frosted eyelashes and white eyebrows, fingers frozen in a position as if poised over a keyboard, that’s me. It’s not even Thanksgiving yet and I have on two pairs of socks right now, a sweatshirt, a vest, and a sweatshirt jacket. If it gets any colder, I’m going to put on my hat. I’ve worn it in the house before and Kurt hates it. Says it doesn’t flatter me one iota. It’s one of those kind of hats that burglars wear with holes for your eyes and your mouth. Plus he’s sick of seeing it because once winter starts, I put it on and I don’t take it off. Even if it’s not very cold that day and I can get away with a light jacket, I still have to keep my head covered. I have two of them. I mean, I have many hats but I have two of my favorite. I have to have a back-up. You never know when you’re going to get the original all dirty. Maybe a horse will step on it, not with your head inside, but say you took it off to listen to a heartbeat and it blows off the nail you hung it on. It could happen. And so it needs cleaning. You have to have the back-up for cases like this.
My mother was so cold when she was visiting us when we were living in the Amityville Horror House that when I came downstairs in the morning, I found her sitting next to the stove, the oven turned on to broil and the door propped open. The sugar bowl, her coffee cup and the ashtray were on the oven door like it was a little table and she was reading the morning paper with a scarf around her neck. “Good morning,” she said, like it was normal to be sitting in front of the gas stove reading the paper.
Oh, but I knew the stories she was going to tell when she went back up north—Debi and Kurt are freezing down there! They are roughing it! They might as well be in Alaska and they ought to burn that damn house down they are living in and come back to civilization where it’s warm! (That was the year Jersey became Florida and people could go swimming year round because it was so nice up there and why did I ever leave anyway?)
Now there is no reason for these houses to be this cold. Yes, the Amityville Horror House was a one-hundred-year-old farmhouse with beadboard walls but prior owners had taken down all the beadboard, numbered it, insulated, and then put it all back up again. There was blown-in insulation in the attic, batting in the cellar, weather-stripping and plastic on the windows. We had two propane furnaces, one upstairs and one down. There was an electric wall heater in the bathroom. We had four fireplaces, two with woodstoves, one cranking continuously. And we had an outside wood furnace, the big daddy of all woodstoves. You could burn whole barns in that outside woodstove and in fact, we cut down and burned enough wood to fill two pickup truck beds every week. You don’t even want to know what the propane bill was. And still. It was cold in there.
Why can’t I be warm? That’s all I ask.
I thought this house was going to be better. This is the pig farmer’s house—a little Depression-era farmhouse one third the size of the Amityville house. The ceilings are low. I can touch the ceilings upstairs without standing on my toes. Handy for changing light bulbs and removing batteries in touchy smoke detectors when you’re cooking pork chops. Insulation and new vinyl siding were installed over the original clapboard. All the windows in the back were boarded up and sided over. (I didn’t do it—the lady I bought it from committed atrocious acts of destruction on this place in an effort to improve and modernize—someday I’d like to remove it and expose the charming, three-over-three windows that line the length of the back porch and put up little red-and-white checked curtains.) The rest of the windows are new. We put in a woodstove as soon as we moved in. And new electric heat with an impressive energy star rating. And still. It’s cold in here.
I’m getting that hat.