Heat pumps spoiled us

Published 11:22 pm Friday, January 28, 2011

Brr, the bedroom was cold. I threw back the sheet, two thermal blankets, and a comforter and felt for my bedroom slippers next to the bed. Even the carpet felt cold beneath my heavy socks. As soon as I stepped in the foyer, I heard the steady hum of the heat pump fan. Dollar marks danced in my head. “Another big electric bill,” I muttered, and headed for the kitchen.

The night before, I had switched the thermostat of the unit on fan to help circulate warm air from a unit in another part of the house. It helped, but the chill still held in the bedrooms. I am awaiting a replacement compressor from the company that carries our heating-cooling maintenance contract. I know it will still be a few days before warm air flows once again from the ailing heat pump. Like most everyone, I am spoiled by today’s modern conveniences. When I can’t push a button and get heat the temperature I choose, I get upset.

As I pulled all those covers up and made up the bed, I thought about my school days in a coal mining community near Birmingham. There was no button to push to control the heat. Our heating system was a big coal circulator heater that occupied a prominent place in our large living room. My daddy used plenty of scuttles of coal to keep a fire burning in that heater every day. At night, he banked the fire by letting it burn low and then sprinkled ashes on top. The next morning, he shook out some of the ashes and added coal to the glowing embers that remained. It wasn’t long before a roaring fire erupted and circulated warm air to our living room and kitchen.

The heat didn’t extend to our bedrooms. I snuggled into bed every night in flannel pajamas and socks to keep my feet warm. Sometimes when it was extremely cold, my mother wrapped a heated cloth around my feet as soon as I crawled in bed. After she roused me in the mornings, she tossed the covers back and wrapped me in a blanket. The she hurried me to the living room and helped me dress for school close to the heater.

A big old drafty school bus picked me up at the Southern Railroad depot across the road from our house. One icy morning the bus broke down. There was no way to call for help. Everyone piled off the bus and walked the rest of the way. The boys tromped along, jumping and breaking ice on frozen puddles on the way. We huffed and puffed up a long hill to reach the school grounds. We arrived late, and rushed to warm up close to the radiators in our classrooms.

Cold weather, accelerated electric bills, and automatic heat that suddenly isn’t automatic triggered thoughts about those carefree days of my life. My mother and daddy kept me warm and I never even knew there was such a thing as an electric bill.