The wood stove is on. Rural New England’s got “the-leaves-have-turned” chill that sparks my competitive spirit. It’s five degrees colder than urban New England where the collective effects of the sun beating off the black pavement and all the car exhaust produces heat.
Growing up, leaving off the heat was a triumph. “I didn’t turn my heat on until November 17th,” one person bragged. My dad tried to trump it, like when I try to outrun the guy next to me on the treadmill. Every year he said, “I’ll give everyone heat for Christmas,” and “Get a sweater.” We wouldn’t think of touching the thermostat. It was relegated to the male head of household, like hooking up stereo parts or packing the trunk for vacation. There are just things women don’t do. Even in modern times.
When I got my own apartment, my first thought was, “Who’s going to turn on the heat?” I pondered from the first chilly day in September all the way through the fall. I wondered “What day can the heat go on? November 17th? Christmas? Or should I try to knock this out of the park and go for Groundhog Day? I can WIN this!”
There are things a person can do to avoid turning on heat. Wear many sweaters…but there are only so many layers one can wear before resembling the inside of a padded room. Baking works, too. But that’s cheating, because the energy that runs the stove–gas, electric, or propane isn’t free.
What is the reason for the “Get a sweater” anyway? Why avoid heat, historically?
Flashback. My grandmother used to give the look when I put sugar in my tea. “Have some tea with your sugar.” Clear cut sarcasm. The best way to combat sarcasm, I’ve found, is to pretend to be too stupid to understand it.
“Okay. Thanks, Grandma.” In order for this to work, the response must be genuine and innocent. Any touch of return-volley sarcasm invites doom.
The point is, she remembered The Great Depression and World War II when ration cards restricted the amount of meat, sugar, eggs, and butter for her growing family. My uncle tells a story of losing the ration book on the way to the store. He didn’t go there straight away–he stopped to play with his friends. Everyone went out in the dark to hunt and luckily, it was found. They would’ve lost the food for the month, let alone the sugar.
“Have some sugar with your tea,” is a flashback to times of no sugar. Grandma also saved every plastic bag and odd gadgets before we recycled such things. Never know when they could be of use. We don’t have to worry about sugar now. There’s no need to ration it. It’s mass-produced in countries where people should get paid more, and it floods the nation. No shortage whatsoever.
Where did the “get a sweater,” originate? Where did freezing become a badge of honor? Growing up in the 70’s with electric heat–the type of heat that was supposed to end up cheaper and cleaner but really ended up making houses unsellable relics with bills that got up to 4-500/month…that’s where the sweater began for us. Then we lived in a large Victorian to start a group home that never quite got going, while my parents did about fifty things to make the world a better place–soup kitchens, grants, helping others in need. Meanwhile, they, themselves worried how to heat the large home they bought with the helping-others package. It had a wood stove that heated the center column of the house. The rest of the large house…got a sweater. Getting a sweater burrowed into two generations of psyche.
I don’t waste money. I can afford heat. Rusty gathered and chopped two years of wood himself, taking trees for people after the hurricane and turning them into round pieces then woodstove-sized logs. “It’s exercise.”
But here I sit, with the heat on early, toggling between guilty and defiant. I’m drinking coffee enjoying the calm. I toss another log in the stove. The gloves cover my pajamas with soot. Forgot about that. That’s what you get for putting on the heat so early. I put the heat on because I can.
I remember times of need. I’ll see the faces of students and others this time of year–no coat, “Christmas sucks” (because I’m not going to get anything). Some have as much heat as they want in utilities-included apartments, others are “getting a sweater” too. And some remain blissfully unaffected by the needs around them. Innocent.
The winter and holidays are times of great compassion and generosity–food drives popping up everywhere, “Give a dollar for this cause,” in every grocery line.
I don’t need to “get a sweater” anymore, I’m blessed. I’ll joke about sweaters on Thanksgiving. But for a moment, I remember the times when I’ve needed them. And think about those who still do.
[image: tipsyelves.com . They have some cool sweaters. If you dare….]