It was the last day of December in 1989. My youngest sister—visiting from California to see how the other half freezes—surveyed the driveway which had taken the Hub all morning to shovel the snow out of and taken the snow plow 3.5 seconds to plow the snow back into.
“So….what else do you do here in the winter?” It was an honest question from a native Californian who probably had to buy her first pair of shoes without a toe-thong for her journey to the heart of the frozen Midwest.
As winter novices ourselves, we had moved to Illinois from Virginia a few years back expecting silver bells in the meadow with Frosty the Snowperson on a one-horsepower open snowmobile. Now that we were experienced Midwesterners, though, we knew that where the treetops glisten, they just might come down on our power lines. And heading over the river and through the woods is out because there might be a power failure while we’re gone and the pipes would freeze.
So I told my sister the truth. In winter, we try to stock enough staples—peanut butter, laundry soap, Cheerios, videos featuring animated rodents—to carry us through February at least. Then we hunker down and wait for our appliances to break down at the beginning of holiday weekends. Experience, I told her, has shown us there are three ways to handle these situations:
- Ignore them. This worked with the gas stove, which would now turn on most of the time if you use a match at just the right angle. And who says the oven door needs to close or the garage door needs to open?
- Fix them ourselves with the help of the “EZ Home Repairs Manual” which advises: “Do not try this at home unless you have the correct tools including an industrial strength beer supply and an understanding life insurance agent.”
- Call a repairperson. But the Hub is positive there is a stone tablet somewhere inscribed, “Thou shalt not honor expensive repairmen above thy EZ Home Repairs Manual”. So Step 3 is a last resort for use when phrases like “divorce,” “over my dead body” and “custody of the dog” begin to creep into our discussions.
Take, for example, when our furnace thermostat broke down at the start of the 3-day New Year’s weekend. We discovered we could either sell a child to pay for an emergency repairperson visit, or hotwire the furnace to run nonstop at full blast. Since the market for used adolescents with runny noses was a little weak at the moment, passersby were probably startled to see our house. With single-digit January temperatures, there probably weren’t too many other houses in town with all the windows open and the occupants in shorts and t-shirts.
Without going into painful details about our electrical expertise, I can also tell you that while hotwiring the furnace, we discovered all our smoke alarms would have to be replaced.
The Hub: “Aaaugghh!!!”
Child #3: “Daddy wants to know if we have any more of those tubs of stuff you use to fill in big holes which may or may not have just appeared in the ceilings…”
History tells us that the hardy pioneer forefathers would spend whole frozen winters on the prairie mending harness, making popcorn, waiting for video players to be invented, and watching for the hardy pioneer foremothers to come down with prairie-madness and start hacking the hardy pioneer forefamily to bits.
But while our ancestors’ only entertainment was making shadow pictures on the wall and waiting for the hardy foremother to start slashing, we could rent the latest efforts from Netflix (Motto: “Leave the slashing to us.”) Progress?
THE HUB: Let’s get that new video Aliens 9 where the whole family is possessed by organisms that come ripping out of their chests.
ME: That sounds too much like the flu we all had last week. So I picked this inspiring romantic comedy we can all watch together. It has a great New Year’s Eve scene!*
*[translation: “If I see one more video featuring animated rodents, I may feel a touch of Great-Granny’s prairie madness coming on.]
CHILD #3: Eeeuuu yuck—they’re sucking on each other’s lips!!!
CHILD #2: No, that’s just how they kissed in the olden days, and then they would get babies. But don’t worry, they don’t make you do it like that any more, do they Mommy?
CHILD #1: Well, Mommy, you better not let Daddy do it any more because we’re out of bedrooms, and I’m not sharing with Child #3 because he’s been farting under this blanket.”
[CHILD #3 proudly demonstrates.]
ME: Where did I leave that knife?
[Update from Barb: We now have heat. I’ve put away the knife. Happy New Year!]