Jen Jeffrey: Another Mama Saga: The Coldest Day Of The Year

Sunday, January 12, 2014 - by Jen Jeffrey
Jen Jeffrey
Jen Jeffrey

When the arctic blast came barreling through the Tennessee Valley, Mama and I lost our heat at four o’clock in the morning. I am not sure if it’s God’s joke or not, but Mama (who always used to be hot when I used to be cold) is now cold all the time and… it happens to be at the same time that I experience hot flashes.

Mama and I have had our thermostat wars and have learned to compromise. Luckily the HRT I take for menopause is helping, so I don’t suffer hot-flashes anymore – but I think where I used to be a very cold person, my body temperature is now ‘normal’. When Mama goes to bed at night, she likes to turn the thermostat up a notch or two. To avoid roommate issues, I closed the vent off in my bedroom, because it is a small house and the heat in the rest of the house insulates my bedroom enough without it being open.

When preparing for the coldest day of the year, Mama and I dripped the water in the bathroom and kitchen and opened the cabinet doors. I thought I better open my vent on this night as we expected the temperature to sink into single digits.

It was quite cold when I went to bed and I was glad that I opened my vent, but at four o’clock in the morning, I awoke with a chill of air surrounding my face and ears. I wanted to ignore it and just huddle under the covers where my body heat was trapped and was warm, but the air outside of the covers was so cold that I woke up enough to think about Mama. I didn’t want her scrunching up and possibly getting a crick in her neck or being chilled to the bone, so I got out of bed to turn the thermostat up.

We had it set for 74 degrees, but I saw that it only registered 67 degrees. I realize that some people love that temperature in their house all year round – but it felt really cold in the house. I turned the thermostat up to 76 and went back to bed. At 4:30 it felt even colder, so I got up and saw that the thermostat now read 63 degrees. It had gone down four degrees in 30 minutes! I played with the thermostat that was one of those programmable TVA economy plans that Papa had installed years ago.

I have never been able to figure it out… Hold…run… Tuesday at 2:00 am …hold…Thursday at 1:00 pm… these words kept flashing at me when I pushed buttons. I had no idea where the “undo” button was to override all those days and times that were set years ago to keep certain temperatures. And, while I could not override the set temperatures for a normal winter… it seemed that now in the brutal arctic cold air that the thermostat was not working at all!

I wasn’t about to give up… surely I was just ignorant in how to change the settings to make it warmer and if I pushed the buttons enough, maybe I would figure it out. I went into Mama’s room and placed a flannel blanket on top of her. She seemed warm under her cover and was not aware how cold it was. I fiddled a little more with the temperature and got another cover for my bed but I couldn’t go back to sleep. The house got colder in just the time that I got extra blankets and now the thermostat read 57 degrees. I knew that we were losing heat fast and the temperature outside was dropping too.

I brewed a cup of coffee (even though I had given coffee up) to stay warm as I tried to figure out what to do. I consider myself to be intelligent, but I admit there are times when simple things are over my head that most people would know. Who do you call when the thermostat isn’t working? The duct work was fine and the heat pump seemed to be fine… it was that darn thermostat! I called EPB and told them the problem. I was asked if the refrigerator and stove worked and I told the representative that we had electricity, but that we didn’t have heat. After conveying to her that the problem wasn’t the heater – it was the thermostat, she told me they didn’t handle that and I would need to call an electrician.

Really? I was baffled. I was quiet while she let me take that information in… “But if we pay YOU guys for our electricity… and you guys bill from whatever our thermostat is set on… how are you not the ones to help us with this?” My brain just would not grasp that. I had never needed to know this, so it took me a minute as she explained about voltage and what they do and what an electrician would need to do. I thought electricians came from EPB. I conceded, telling her that I understood, but after hanging up, I disagreed with the fact that we needed an electrician. I decided that we needed a “heat and air” company to come out and make sure we had heat.

Mama got up early also and realized how very cold it was as the house was now at 53 degrees. That isn’t too bad when you are out in the sun and with a light jacket, but with single digit temperatures outside and the house was not holding heat – it was pretty cold. Mama wrapped warm throws around her in her chair in the living room and I told her what EPB said. We agreed to call a heat and air company. She made the call to a company in her address book who Papa had used before. They said they would come out between three and seven that evening. When they quoted the service call charge, she told them to forget it and she would call someone else.

Mama is very on guard when it comes to being taken advantage of – sometimes too much. I understood how she felt, because it was just a month ago when she had someone come out (who was recommended to her) to check and make sure the heating system worked. They barely looked at it and charged her for the service call just to tell her “it’s probably fine”. So, Mama didn’t like the thought of another service call fee and thought she may find someone who won’t charge her an arm and a leg just to come out. I explained that she called a good company this time and we needed heat and told her that we just wouldn’t let them leave until we got it!

But she had called another company in her address book because she trusted them since they were who Suntrust had used when she worked there. She didn’t realize that company was electricians when she called. I think both our brains were pretty frozen by then so it was an honest mistake of two people trying to take care of the same problem and not communicating.

What gets me a little miffed is the fact that she told them exactly what was wrong with our heat and they sent electricians out anyway for a heat and air problem that they could not fix. Two electricians came out and looked at the unit and they came in and told Mama that the problem was in the thermostat. We knew that. They held out their hand for the $95 service fee that took all of 10 minutes to tell her they were not who she needed.

Mama was reluctant to call the heat and air company back but the thermostat read 50 degrees and we were desperate. We almost lost the window of time available for them to come out, but they said they would work us in.

In the meantime, it dawned on us, that even if our heat was out, that our electricity was still on and we could use space heaters until our heat was fixed! Sometimes it feels like Mama and I are the blind leading the blind. I found a small space heater that I used at my office when I worked for Memorial. Mama had a bigger one somewhere but we couldn’t find it anywhere.

After suffering loss from a house fire years ago and experiencing loss once again when I left everything in my divorce, I have learned to become a minimalist. I learned that ‘stuff’ just isn’t that important and my focus is basically on the people in my life and just immediate needs. I try to encourage Mama to do the same. As she is older, she doesn’t entertain anymore and now that it is just she and I living together, I have encouraged her to let go of things stored away and never used. We have gone through closets and given many things to Goodwill and the Salvation Army and she has learned to have less clutter.

We thought that maybe we gave the heater away since this is a small house and we really didn’t need a space heater. My memory was jogged that possibly when my sister Jill was over and had seen the pile for the Salvation Army to pick up, that she may have grabbed the heater telling Mama she needed one. Mama called her and I was right! So I warmed up my car and headed over to my sister's a few blocks away to get the space heater. That helped tremendously as we huddled wrapped in blankets close to the space heater.

The temperature in the house rose a few degrees and Mama and I stayed wrapped in blankets. I had gotten out a few knitted hats that I had and we put those on too. As we sat wrapped up our recliners wearing our toboggans, we laughed at ourselves and started talking like the sisters on the Waltons – something we do when we joke around. Mama is Miss Emily and I am Miss Mamee. We even made a video at Christmas that we posted on my Facebook page acting like them. Even if we face difficult situations, it is good that Mama and I can laugh and try to make any circumstance joyful in some way.

Since it was too early for Miss Emily and Miss Mamee to partake in the ‘recipe’ we got our minds off of the cold by chatting about this and that as though we were both high school girls at a slumber party - we talked about boys. I talked about Jason and I meeting up this weekend and then we talked about her childhood boyfriend Jimmy Ford (who Jason recently told her was widowed). She got out her old high school yearbook and showed me what he looked like. I noticed immediately that his basketball jersey was number 22 - my ‘Godwink’ number. Not to try to predict anything when I see that number, but it is beyond coincidental when it crosses my path and I see the number over and over when God wants me to pay attention and I know He is winking at me.

Who knows what God has in store for me and for Mama, but it is fun that Mama isn’t just my mother, but also my girlfriend and we understand each other. 

The heat and air guy came and confirmed that it was the thermostat and he put a new one on that was not the horrendous programmable one that Papa had installed. Now, we just turn it ‘on or off’ and ‘up or down’ - simple enough for Miss Emily and Miss Mamee.

We had 12 hours without heat during the coldest day of the year, but we handled it the best we could. A lot of people had it much worse. When we thought of people losing their power, having pipes burst or even thoughts of the homeless …it made us realize we are truly blessed.

jen@jenjeffrey.com


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