January 24, 2014

Deep Freeze…

Category: News — Ira @ 6:46 pm


A little vacation
Ain’t asking very much.
I hate comin’ home to this old broken down apartment,
I wish I had a dime for every hole that’s in the carpet…

All I want is a life,
To drink from a glass from a well that ain’t dry,
I’m sick of the crumbs, I want a piece of that pie,
All I want is a life.

—Tim McGraw, lyrics

The SUV was sitting off to the side in the parking lot, just as I was leaving work one evening this week. A fancy one, looked like. It was almost dusk, right at five, and I couldn’t see if anyone was even sitting in it. Everyone had already left, except Mahlon, one of my yard guys. He pulled around and opened his window. “Do you want to check it out, what’s up over there?” He asked. Yeah, I better, I said. If you would, just stay back here, don’t leave, until I know what’s going on. So he stayed back while I pulled up to the vehicle. I rolled down my window. The other driver rolled his down, too. He was talking real fast on his phone.

It was a Range Rover. I don’t know much about them, but I know they’re expensive. And the guy told me. “The radiator hose broke. I can’t move. I’m talking to the tow truck people, trying to get them over here to haul us home.” He had people in there with him. They looked cold. After waving Mahlon on out, I told the guy, kind of chided him. It’s close to zero out here. Next time you break down in my parking lot and it’s that cold, come inside. No sense sitting out here and freezing. Come on over to my truck and warm up. All four doors opened, then. And five people stepped out. The driver, and what looked like his brother. And three teenagers in the back seat, a guy and two astonishingly beautiful girls. They were all shivering.

My back seat was a mess, of course. Well, my whole truck is a mess, usually. Because I got no one to nag me to keep it cleaned up. The back seat is especially cluttered. Boxes stacked and strewn about, with all kinds of gear. Flashlights, jumper cables, tow rope, and extra jackets and such. I reached back and tried to pile the stuff off to one side. The three teenagers packed themselves in. It was pretty tight. And the man and his brother sat up front with me. Well, if your tow truck’s on the way, I’ll open the office and just wait with you, I said. “They said it won’t be until eight, but she said she’d see if they can move us up to the front,” he said. So we sat there, while he made few calls to other people. I had the heat cranked up all the way. And they were still shivering, back there in the back seat. They kept chattering in a foreign language. I had no clue what it was, so I asked them. “Greek,” the teenage boy told me.

And then the man’s phone rang. It was the tow truck dispatcher lady. She couldn’t get anyone over before eight. They were just too overwhelmed. Tell her to pick you up at Aunt Jennie’s Diner, just down the road, I told him. So he did. She knew of the place and said the tow truck driver would meet them there. And they hung up.

I was going to try to get to the gym that evening, because it’s been tough lately, to get over there. What with snowstorms and early closings and all. I really had planned to make it. That was pretty much shot, now. Oh, well. I’d go home and shovel the walks from this last big storm we’d had the day before, I figured. And they got their purses and whatever from the Range Rover and piled back in. Six people up front in the cab. And six 80-lb. pole pills in the bed of the truck. My yard guys stack them in there, when the roads get bad, to give me some weight to work with. And off we trundled, my truck and me. It’s the biggest load I’ve ever hauled. I have no idea who these people were, except they lived in Wilmington. We never spoke our names. I dropped them off in front of Aunt Jennie’s and wished them well. Just go tell them what’s going on. They have good food. They’ll be fine with you hanging out here until you get a tow, I told them. The man shook my hand and thanked me. And so I left them.

And that’s the kind of winter it’s been. Where a hifalutin’ SUV like a Range Rover sits useless in my yard, because a hose busted because of the cold. The kind of thing that comes at you sometimes, when you’re least expecting it. It’s been a brutal, brutal winter so far. You try to take it as it comes. Maybe I’m just getting old and cranky. But right now, I’m just flat out tired of it all. I’m weary, just weary, of all of it. And the way it’s looking, there’s still a long way to go until spring. And the global warming wackos have come up with a brand new term for it, even, so they can claim the climate’s changing, and it’s all our fault. Polar Vortex. That term makes me weary, too. Why not just call it what it is? It’s a long, hard winter. It’s been this way before. It’ll be this way again. And it’s never any fun.

I don’t know how anyone can ever romanticize this season. I hear people fuss now and then, about how great it is, all the cold and wind and snow. And how cozy it is by a warm fire inside, all wrapped in a blanket with a book. And I think, blech. Nothing romantic about any of that. Sure, sometimes winter acts tame, by being tame. To get you to look the other way, to catch you off guard. But its true nature always shows itself, if you wait long enough. And its true nature is that of a freakin’ beast. Because winter, real winter, will always break in and break things. Whether it’s this guy’s fancy Range Rover, or my old house.

I think back, now and then, to what my brother Nathan claimed years ago. “We were always cold, in winter, growing up,” he said. “We didn’t even know it, but it was always cold. I have never been able to warm up from that cold.” I thought he was just saying wild things, from bad memories. But this winter, I think back and he was right. It was always cold, in Aylmer in winter. The Lake Erie winds swept in, ruthless and biting. And it always snowed and snowed and snowed. The plows rolled through, then, and the snow banks beside the road were higher than our heads, often, in many places. We didn’t think much of it, because that’s just the way it was.

The house was always warm, at least during the day. At night, after the fires lowered and died, that’s when the cold crept in. And every fall, Mom brought out her big feather blankets and put them on our beds. I’ve never seen any like that since. They were big, and fluffy. Filled with goose feathers. You could nest down in those, didn’t matter how cold the room was around you. And you could sleep in peace. But getting up was the problem. By the time Dad called upstairs that it was time to go do the chores, he had a fire roaring in his big contraption of a wood stove in the northwest corner of the living room. We shivered from our warm snug nests, to even think about stepping out into that cold air. But Dad’s hollering was pretty persistent, and you couldn’t just ignore it. By the second or third time, it was time to get out from under that big old warm comforter. Step onto the cold floor, on our bare feet. Dress, as quickly as possible. And then run down the stairs to the living room and huddle by the stove. It was all so cold, all of it. And then we put on our coats and headed out to the barn. That was a fairly warm place, what with all the animal heat going on. Warm, but odorous. We didn’t even think about the way the place smelled, though. Because we were raised around the barn. Warm was what we wanted, and were looking for.

We had running water in Aylmer. They’ve always had that, ever since the settlement was founded. And Dad’s water system was pretty simple. He installed a vast water tank in the hayloft of our big old barn. The windmill just south of the house filled the tank. And the water gravity-flowed to the house and the water tanks for livestock. That meant there were pipes going every which way, from the tank. And I can remember almost every winter, Dad slogging around out there with a bucket of hot water and some rags, trying to unthaw things. It always looked real messy to me.

I kind of felt it coming, early on, that it would be a tough winter. We haven’t had a real bad one in a while. Last year, the ground never even froze up. And you could just calculate what was coming. That, and the Farmer’s Almanac boldly claimed we were in for some big storms. I don’t know how those people do it, but they’re right more often than they’re wrong.

And the first snow came one Sunday in early December, while we were in church. I kind of noticed it coming down outside. Didn’t look that bad. So most of us stood around and visited for an hour or so, like usual. And by the time I walked out to leave, it was absolutely treacherous out there. I crept out to Rt. 41 in 4-wheel drive, and slowly edged down Gap Hill. PennDot was caught completely off guard. It’s been years since I’ve seen such horrendous driving conditions. Traffic was already at a full stop going uphill. And it was like a minefield, all the way home. I would have been fine, except for the other traffic out there. Cars stuck halfway up hills. Buggies clogging up things; you had to dodge around them. And of course, look out for the nuts coming up from behind and passing you. Forty-five minutes later, I finally got home. And I was very grateful to be there. No going to Vinola’s to watch football this afternoon, I thought to myself. I’m staying right here.

And that’s the way it went, pretty much ever since, for over a month now. A hard snow slashes in, and just shuts things down. And messes up all my schedules at work. Deliveries pile up on each other, and the builders try to fit in what they can, when they can. And you get it all shook out and straightened out. Then it all happens again.

And I thought about it a few times, as it got cold and stayed cold. My furnace downstairs. It’s an old heating system, in this house. But the furnace was relatively new, back when we moved in. The Amish man had bragged about it. “It’s less than ten years old, so it should last you a good many years, yet,” he said. And we looked at what he was pointing out to us. A little furnace, with a great tangle of all kinds of pipes strung about. The water heating system ran through it. If that furnace ever quit, there would be a world of hurt waiting. I didn’t think much about it. The house was real. And the heating system was real. We could see it. And that day, the old house could have been in way worse shape, all of it, and we would have taken it anyway.

And I kept the furnace serviced, pretty much every year. Usually in the summer, that’s when you get that stuff done. And I had it all checked out last summer. So hopefully, with any luck, it would get me through one more winter, even a bad one. Plus, I figured, I had a wild card. The tenant. He’s pretty capable, and he has lots of connections. If he can’t fix it, he’ll know someone who can. I felt pretty confident about all that. And as December passed on in to January, everything seemed to be hanging together pretty well, down in the basement.

And it all came loose about two weeks ago. Late one night, as I was getting ready for bed, I thought I heard a strange gurgling sound coming from the kitchen sink. This cannot possibly be a good thing, I thought. The water still came, though, when I turned on the tap. The pressure seemed good. I checked around all over, for any water coming from anywhere. Walked down to the basement. Nothing that I could see. It was late. Oh, well. Maybe nothing’s wrong. If there is, I’ll figure it out tomorrow.

The next morning, the water pressure was very low. And the water itself was murky. Gah. It had finally come. Trouble with my system. And right in the middle of the worst winter anyone’s seen in these parts for decades. The tenant was already gone. So I called him. He had showered last night, and the pressure was fine. Well, it’s not fine now, I told him. “I’ll check it out when I get home,” he said. I’ll leave the outside basement door unlocked, and the light on, I said.

I skipped the gym that evening and went straight home. He was puttering around down by the furnace, talking to a buddy on his cell phone. We could hear water running through the pipes. And when water’s running, it has to be going somewhere. That’s what he couldn’t figure out. The next day was a Saturday. And his buddy agreed to stop by in the morning.

I didn’t have a real good feeling about it all. I met them and let them in. And the two of them stood there, trying and trying to figure out where the water could be running to. It was a pretty classic redneck scene. They talked and talked and analyzed and fussed. I stood around, fretting. And then they decided that maybe some parts needed changing.

And over the next few days, his buddy came and went and came and went. He knew just enough to be dangerous, but not enough to actually get the thing fixed. He switched out a modulator. Changed the pressure overflow valve. Both were pretty much clogged up, he claimed. I have hard water. It eats things up. And he figured out that when you closed a certain line, the continuous water flow stopped. And I had decent pressure and clean water upstairs. But there was no heat. There was really nothing else he could do. He was stumped.

And then I did what I probably should have done to start with. Called on one of my own connections. A young guy, a real plumber. I’d become friends with him, because he serviced our system at work. I hadn’t wanted to bother him, because he was already working insane hours, fixing emergencies all over the county. But I finally called him, because I figured the situation I was in was an emergency. I left a message and he called right back. He’d stop by the next afternoon, Saturday. That’s great, I said. I won’t be here, because I’ll be at the Horse World Expo in Baltimore, manning the Graber booth. I told him how to get into the basement. If anyone could fix this problem, he could.

And that Friday evening, the furnace itself just stopped. Quit working completely. I punched the reset button, but it was just dead. That’s all I need, I thought. Now I’ll have to shell out money for a new furnace. I got things to do and places to go this year, travel plans. A new furnace is gonna take a serious bite out of all that. I called my buddy, and amazingly, he was very calm. “Don’t worry,” he said. “I will fix your furnace.” That settled me down a little bit. But still. How could he be so sure? He had never even seen my unit.

And the next day, I packed a bag and headed on down to the Horse Expo to join the other Graber guys already there. It’s kind of fun to get out, once in a while, just for a change of pace. I don’t know horses, I don’t understand horses, and no, I don’t particularly care for horses, as anyone who has read much of my stuff knows. Being Amish burned any potential for any of that out of me years ago. And a lot of “horse people” are just a little bit strange. They just are. But I can talk horses all day long, and I can sure sell you a real nice horse barn.

I fretted to my coworkers about my furnace. “Nah,” they said. “If anyone can fix it, Dwylin can.” And he didn’t even get over to my house until late afternoon. Right after he got there, he called. He had instantly figured out why water was flowing through the pipes. Two little pipes went out through the north basement wall, under the back porch and mud room. He’d shut them off, and it just stopped. As he was talking to me, he went outside and opened the little crawl space and shone his light in. “Yep,” he said. Those two little pipes are busted. They froze.” Don’t worry about fixing those, I said. We’ll get to them later sometime. I can put a little heater out there in that porch, over the winter. And right there he took care of that.

Look, I said. It’s late Saturday afternoon, and you’ve been running hard all day. Just get me patched up for now. Get me some pressure, and make that furnace run. We can fix it all as it should be fixed later, when things slow down for you. Like maybe next summer. “I’ll call you when I get the furnace running,” he said. And he did, less than an hour later.

“There’s absolutely nothing wrong with your furnace,” he told me, as I sagged with relief. “It’s got perfect spray, perfect flame, and it’s in real good shape.” Man, I can’t tell you how relieved I am, I said. Look, when things slow down, I’m taking you to Vinola’s. We’ll have a few, and I’m buying. He laughed. “Yeah, I’ve heard lots of good things about that place. Never been there.” Well, I’m taking you, I said. And get that bill in the mail, too. And charge me your weekend rates. And I thought to myself, as we hung up. Next time use your own connections, when it comes to the big stuff.

And I got home in time on Sunday afternoon to watch part of the Denver-New England game. Settled in to watch the next one. And there was a little issue of water leaking from one of the tenant’s heaters upstairs, right down onto my kitchen counter. After frantic calls to both the tenant and my plumber, we got it all squared away without too much damage. Except I didn’t get to see the last half of what was one of the best championship games in NFL history.

But overall, everything kind of wrapped itself up in a good way, I thought. Except it’s still winter. And I’m still weary. I think now and then about how nice it would be to “go south for the winter,” and run with the racy set. I could look all writerly and wear a linen jacket and smoke a pipe. Hang out in quaint cafes and coffee shops, and maybe get a little writing done on a sequel, or some such thing. And I got nothing against any of all that. If that’s you, feel free within yourself, and make no excuses for who you are. I just can’t see it being me. Because here’s the problem with that little scenario. People who have jobs, people who get up and drive to work every day to make a living, people like that can’t do things like that.

And I am one of those people.

And how about the upcoming Super Bowl? It’ll be played outside, in New York. Here’s hoping for, oh, at least a semi-blizzard. There, I mean. Not where I am. I’d love to see a snow covered field, with more snow coming down hard, all game. The way the winter’s been going up in those parts, I think there might be a decent chance of that.

And my pick to win? I got nothing against either team, really. The vile Patriots were unceremoniously booted, that’s all I really cared about. And I wouldn’t mind seeing Peyton get another ring. But I’m going with the Seahawks. It’s time for a West Coast team to bring home a ring, I think. Plus I respect Pete Carroll a little more as a coach. If Denver wins, it won’t be because of John Fox’s coaching. Besides, I still feel bad for the Seahawks, the way they were robbed in their last Super Bowl. That game against the Steelers was just flat out the worst officiated Super Bowl in all of history. Maybe one of the worst officiated games, ever, anywhere. Sorry, Steelers fans. It really was that bad.

So I’m going with Seattle. Seahawks by three.



  1. I will announce who I am rooting for in the Superbowl a day or two before hand. Watch for it. Teeth will gnash.

    Oh, and the winter thing? Pretty sure winter was part of the curse back in the Garden of Eden.

    Comment by RAM — January 24, 2014 @ 7:01 pm

  2. Well said. I can’t remember a rougher winter. And it ain’t over yet, but that’s fine. We’ll survive.

    Gotta go with the Broncos. Yes the Seahawks got the shaft in the Super Bowl against the Steelers. They’ll win one eventually, I just don’t see it happening this year. Omaha

    Comment by Reuben Wagler — January 24, 2014 @ 7:16 pm

  3. Hi, Sorry you are having a lot of snow and cold. I live in the South, west Tennessee in fact and It is bitter cold (9° with wind chill -14°) That is cold and it penetrates worse that in the north because of the humidity. It’s awful and makes the cold penetrate to the bone.
    I enjoyed your blog as usual, looking forward to your blog next week.
    God Bless.

    Comment by Linda Morris — January 24, 2014 @ 7:37 pm

  4. Well, it’s an exceptionally cold winter here in Georgia. We are breaking all kinds of records. In my part of Georgia, however, we don’t have snow. I am thankful for that blessing. Great blog, written from the heart. Keep warm and, honestly, spring will come again. :-)

    Comment by Rosanna — January 24, 2014 @ 9:50 pm

  5. Home ownership sure is fun, isn’t it?

    Comment by cynthia r chase — January 24, 2014 @ 9:54 pm

  6. I have never lived anywhere that I could not see my breath in the winter when I got out of bed in the morning. We have always heated our houses with stoves or fireplaces until we moved to the city. Even now we heat it with a wall gas heater instead of the big heater. Now I am older it is harder to get warm so I need to get under blankets to get warm. However sitting by a fire reading a book never seemed romantic to me, only something to do when it is too cold to do anything else.

    Comment by Carol Ellmore — January 24, 2014 @ 10:12 pm

  7. Down here in Texas we had snow lay on the ground for about 5 days this year. Some folks claim it’s the worst winter in memory. And we’ve had it drop down into the teens several nights in a row several different weeks. ‘Course it usually gets back up into the 60s during the day a lot of the other weeks. It’s been so cold I had to go out and buy an extra 50. of wood pellets for my stove to make sure I make it through. I am kinda missin sledding with the kids. Oh, and I do NOT wear either a linen or tweed jacket.

    Comment by LeRoy — January 24, 2014 @ 11:50 pm

  8. My empathy for all that cold. As an Amish kid growing up in Arthur Illinois we had all that. I would feel a mild depression coming on in the fall, a sadness that summer was leaving and I would fight that feeling but it was deep and it would still come. The old farmhouse that my grand parents built was not insulated and a glass of water on a window ledge in my upstairs bedroom would freeze overnite! Florida became my home and then Phoenix…for over 30 years now except for the year in Ohio while married..but SUMMER is coming!

    Comment by lenny — January 25, 2014 @ 12:34 am

  9. Thanks for the memories. Barry remembers those days when getting out of his warm bed,-putting his feet on the cold floor-dressing quickly-running downstairs to the old stove-and out to the barn to do chores. I too lived in an old farmhouse, where we scraped the snow from our bedroom window sill in the mornings.
    Thankfully we now are living in a well insulated home, with warmth through and through, and looking out at a blustery snow-storm this morning. We are so grateful for so many things, and yes, Spring is out there somewhere!!!!!! Your friends from Aylmer-Barry and June.

    Comment by June Kinsey — January 25, 2014 @ 10:47 am

  10. When you first FB the story in the parking lot, the first thing that came to mind was you being alone and approaching a situation that you know nothing about.

    I hope you always leave your work place with someone else, either that or you should have a permit to carry.

    Especially where the business is located without much around. Glad everything worked out for everyone. Another month and temps will begin to look better. Enjoy your story like always. Take Care.

    Comment by Warren — January 25, 2014 @ 3:45 pm

  11. Well Ira, I can’t say I blame you much for your disdain of winter, particularly this winter. It has been brutal, to say the least, and with your water and heating issues. Bah! Humbug! Then there’s the fact that you have to go into the white mess every morning to get to work and back, not to mention the hills which I know can be treacherous when they’re covered with ice, snow, and other drivers. I don’t have to tend to nearly as many burdens as you do when it comes to winter.

    Which is why I still love winter and my electric fireplace and the blue glow that radiates from a fresh fallen snow at night. I love the white sparkley snow especially because it looks like diamonds and sugar and silver glitter. I love the smells coming from my oven of pies, chocolate chip cookies, chicken pot pie, Shepherd’s pie, and from the stove top, chili, chicken gnoche soup, potato and ham chowder, all the stuff that makes you go mmmm. I love down filled coats with hoods, soft mittens, colorful scarves, and snow boots. Clomp! Clomp! “I simply remember my faaavorite things and then I don’t feeeel sooo saaaaad!” Or is it baaaad?

    About three Christmas eves. ago we lost our heat in the condo. The Russian guy down stairs couldn’t pay his bills and his one bedroom was taken over by the big bad bank. Well, he wasn’t going anywhere without a fight or at least some large appliances. I should have become suspicious when I saw and heard he and his buddy crooning like two drunken sailors down in the parking lot with a large refrigerator sticking out of the rump of a compact BMW. “Hey, shad ap down there!” It was past midnight. “Darn drunks. I wish they’d get out of here. And why is there a refrigerator in his trunk? It’s about as long as the car.”

    Lo and behold the nut took the air-conditioner, too. He stuck a blanket in the sleeve in the wall to make it look like it was still there. Who knew? It was the middle of winter and yes, base board heating pipes freeze when they get too cold.

    The repair man was in a foul mood when I went to inquire about heat for Christmas. Afterall, it was Christmas eve and he wanted to get home to his family. “Thank you so much for doing this. It’s a wonderful Christmas present you’re giving to all of us. Yes, thank you. Thank you. Goodbye and Merry Christmas.”

    It was a good thing we had our electric fireplace with a heater built into it. Kept us toasty on Christmas morn. while the hot water was making it’s way through the pipes once again.

    That was very kind of you to help out the Greeks.

    Comment by francine — January 27, 2014 @ 1:25 am

  12. I recall dad saying to me in years past that when the temperature went below zero, it was usually not windy and would only last a few days. Well that bit of wisdom has been been dashed this winter. I have seen 75 winters, had cold feet until spring many times, but this “Arctic vortex” is enough to strike fear into the hardiest Canadians.

    Comment by Eli Stutzman — January 27, 2014 @ 11:17 pm

  13. I enjoy your blog…always interesting…but….the Super Bowl is being played in NJ….not NY…

    Comment by Lee — January 31, 2014 @ 3:50 pm

  14. I love your stories, but so sorry to hear about all the cold and snow in N.E. tho we could use some of that moisture here in NM . I remember cold winters growing up in Santa Fe, and we do get cold in Albuquerque, in the 20’s at night, with beautiful cool sunny days, sometimes wind and a little snow that rarely lasts till noon, (always on the way to Texas).

    I’m so disappointed in Denver losing the Super Bowl, they are my team so always a loyal fan !!

    Come visit , you may want to retire here , it’s a beautiful place.

    Comment by Georgia Pearson — February 3, 2014 @ 9:42 pm

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