The Old Furnace

"The Old Furnace"

My parent's house was ancient.  I don't know the exact date, but it was built in the 1700's.  God only knows what heating system was originally in the house, but sometime before I was born, it was "UPDATED" to an oil burning, forced hot air furnace.  The house was big - 13 rooms and the furnace that heated it was a monster.  Between the furnace and the incredible amount of ductwork, it took up the majority of the basement.  It stood about 6 feet tall and I'd guess that it took up about an 8 foot square.  This thing was HUGE.  

Every room on the first floor of the house had seven foot organdy curtains.  My mother never referred to them as just "curtains", they were always "THE ORGANDY CURTAINS".  You'd think they were made out of gold the way she talked about them.  They were taken down and washed by hand, rolled up in a wet towel (I have no idea why) until they could each be ironed and put back up.  This happened once a year as regular maintenance.  

Beneath each window framed by these beautiful, sheer, sparkling white curtains was the hot air register connected to the furnace.  You could see the curtains gently swaying whenever the furnace was on. 

Now for the story.....

For as long as I can remember growing up in that house, every once in a while, the furnace wouldn't ignite as quickly as it should...  And what would happen next would be an explosion that would then send black smoke everywhere in the house.  The curtains would take in all that soot, and my mother would be mad as a hornet.  The next day - all the curtains would have to be taken down, washed, ironed and put back up. 

I said that it was an explosion and I mean an EXPLOSION.  If that furnace didn't ignite in the first three seconds after the oil started spraying, the entire house would shake from the ignition of all that fuel oil.  Cups would rattle.  The china cabinet would shake it's contents.  My mother would yell at my dad saying: 
"God Damn it Art, the whole house is gonna blow up some day if you don't get that thing fixed!" 
Dad would shrug his shoulders, if he acknowledged it at all, and go on with whatever he was doing;  reading, watching TV, or working in his office.  

That still makes me smile, but what was truly hilarious was the way my entire family was conditioned by this furnace.  Let me explain.  When the furnace started spraying it's oil, you'd hear a "CLICK" wherever you were in the downstairs of the house.  As soon as the "CLICK" happened, each family member started their personal countdown.  Nothing was said.  Not a word was spoken.  But we all knew that if it didn't ignite within about 10 seconds, there was a good possibility that the house, along with all of us, would end up being blown to bits. 

The routine for the entire family was that when we heard the click and the furnace didn't ignite - there was a quick shared look of terror, and then the person closest to the "EMERGENCY OFF" switch would run to turn that furnace off before... KA-BOOM!!! Whoever was able to flip that switch received high praise in my house.  I was the youngest of three boys, and I'll tell you - we all made a beeline to the top of the cellar stairs praying we'd get there in time.  It was about a 50-50 shot.  Half the time, you'd be the hero, the other half as soon as the plates stopped rattling and you realized you had survived, you'd hear my mother's plea to my father - always the exact same words - noted above.   

Good Times...  Good Times...  I don't suppose my new natural gas boiler will provide that same level of exhilaration as the furnace from my youth.  But if we had heard of "GRATITUDE JOURNALS" back in the 1960's - there would have been a lot of entries saying: