My little cocoon...
The winter months dished out some pretty cold nights. It wasn’t uncommon to be below zero for weeks at a time. For those of you who don’t live anywhere close to these arctic conditions, this is so cold that when you spit it turns to little pellets of ice before it hits the ground. I remember inhaling through my nose and having my nostrils invert frozen together for a moment until my blood thawed them out and they expanded to back to normal. It was brutal.
As you can imagine, heating our home on a shoestring budget during these dog-days of winter was no inexpensive feat. We had an oil furnace that would run incessantly just to keep the house at 65 degrees. Depending on where you stood in the house, you were either comfortably warm or annoyingly cold. The back room over the porch was almost always a hydro-cooler fit for storing Macintosh apples in the winter.
The heat was turned down at night leaving our bedrooms brisk. I remember my mom piling on the blankets so much so that when I would lie on my back and my feet would bend backwards eventually cramping my calf muscles. I would flop my feet to the sides, but then my knee muscles would stretch taut and begin to feel like they were about to snap like rubber bands. Even so, I loved the heavy blankets –like the protective garment they drape over you when you’re getting an x-ray--providing a sheathing of warmth in those frigid months of winter.
I remember mornings when I would wake up, grab a blanket, and mosey downstairs to the heat register that was directly above the furnace. The air that shot up from that heating duct was almost hot whereas the heat from the other registers was lukewarm due to the second law of thermodynamics. I would kneel down straddling the register as if to pray. I would then grab my blanket pulling it over my whole body so as to trap the hot air inside its fabric membrane. It was like being in a cozy uterus minus the fluidic mucus. I would put my forehead on the floor holding down the blanket like a rock holding a musty tarp over a cord of wood. My knees, feet, elbows and wrists pinned down the rest of the blanket. It was sealed not allowing for any heat to escape or freezing cold air to invade.
It would be pitch-black outdoors and I’d be kneeling in the dark over this register soaking in the heat like a ladybug in a winter windowsill. I remember the air being so dry that every once in a while I would have to force my head out from under the blanket to get some fresh air. When I did, it felt like I was taking in air from the top of the Adirondack Mountains. Crisp, fresh, unadulterated oxygen. After moistening up my throat with the cool air, I’d pull in my turtle-like head and place the canopy of cover back over my body only to start the drying out process again. Just picture beef jerky in a dehydrator and you’d be in the ball park. I would repeat this cycle multiple times until I would hear footsteps upstairs marking the beginning of a new day. It was usually my dad getting up to go to the bathroom.
Looking back upon this tradition I stumbled upon accidently, it felt like something a devout Muslim would have done--waking early, kneeling methodically and spending the first moments of the day in quiet solitude centering himself around his creeds. Remove all the creedal devotion out of this metaphor and that’s what you’re left with--a little boy on the floor trying to survive a pseudo-Alaskan Oswego winter in the ‘hood. Sometimes the furnace would shut off when the house temperature would appease the thermostat and I would kneel there waiting for the temp to drop again so that my little chrysalis would once again fill like a hot-air balloon. Each second felt like a minute and I would hope the next one would usher in that all too familiar sound of an electrical detonation, the ignition of the oil, the revving of the fan and finally the blowing of the heated air up through the heat ducts through the register grid and into my little homemade capsule of goodness.
It’s funny the stuff that you remember about your childhood.