Various Veins

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The weather turned mild on the weekend. If one had any common sense he'd take advantage of this to perform the annual chore of caulking up the cracks around the garage door. I call it the garage although there has been no motor vehicle in there for a quarter of a century. I filled the space with power tools, scraps of lumber, cans of paint, you name it. For the first decade after I laid down my chalk and left the classroom I lugged paint, glue, anything freezable to a storeroom in the basement. One day an idea popped into my head.

I got one of those electric heaters builders use to pretend Canadian climate is fit for winter work instead of going fox or deer hunting, or to Florida. Now I wouldn't have to go through this boring routine. Of course I had to insulate the walls and ceiling of the garage, which I did. Still it was cold enough to, as Charlie Farquharson would say, "freeze the brass off a bald monk" in there.

I taped plastic over the inside of windows, cut and fitted panels of styrofoam into the metal work of the of the big garage door. That sheet metal transferred heat to the outdoors at light speed.

Still the heater ran continuously keeping the electric meter spinning like a top. The wind was howling through the gaps around that door. With a bit of cedar shingle I crammed plastic bags into those cracks, sides, top and bottom. Now the heater would occasionally shut itself off.

My fingers suffered frostbite while performing this last operation. The memory of the pain motivated me to get at it early this fall.

Of course the price of a kilowatt since Ontario liberal folly sent the the cost of electricity soaring to the height of the beloved windmills is another motivator to conserve energy.

As I wadded and poked plastic into the cracks my mind wandered back over the years to the days of my childhood. The house was built long before fiberglass was invented. Some builders filled walls with sawdust, but the walls of our house were filled with air and hickory nut shells that mice pilfered from the attic. Dead air is a great insulator but the winds never let the air stop moving through those walls.

Gusty winds rattled windows and made flashings hum like kazoos. As winter approached, the front doors, both of them, were closed and locked and pleated strips of newspaper were pressed into the spaces. The gaps between the window check rails were likewise stuffed with paper. In spite of these measures it was common to find a skiff of snow on my bed in winter mornings.

Mom and Aunt Bertha used case knives to caulk the windows and doors. Left from the Victorian era, they had thin steel blades and ebony handles. The table was set with silver cutlery, the antiques kept for other uses, and probably for sentimental reasons.

Grandma Wheeler, aunt Bertha's mother, lived with us for two or three of those winters. She observed from her rocking chair, a crocheted shawl over her shoulders and a warm blanket over her lap. She always had a smile and a story for us. I often sat at her feet with a skein of yarn over my outstretched hands while she wound the wool into a ball for knitting socks and mittens to keep us warm when we ventured outside.

We all wore combination underwear, doeskin shirts, heavy sweaters and warm slippers, cheaper than coal or wood through the years of the great depression.

We'd wrap a hot brick or a sad iron in newspaper to lay at our feet in our beds. Hot water bottles would be cold and clammy by morning.

It was a joyous day when the sun returned to Maple Grove and we could once more open the doors and windows to let spring zephers waft through the house.



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