I woke up Sunday morning to a 59 degree house – the coldest it’s been since the seasons changed – so I finally decided to turn on the furnace. What used to be a simple flip of the switch is now a ceremony of sorts – I pause to remember, acknowledge, sometimes shed a tear. Turning on the heat is never the same anymore, because I remember so clearly the day it died. In honor of the man who was the source of so much warmth in my life – my stepfather – I now repost this essay from four years ago.
At precisely 5:30pm on Thursday afternoon, on the eve of a three-day holiday weekend in which all things were closed the next day, our furnace began making a screeching grinding sound that echoed in the vents throughout the house.
As Bryan and I stood in the kitchen assessing the nature of the sound, we both had That Look on our face. It is That Look that recognized the time of day on that particular holiday weekend, during that particular week where temperatures were at a record low for the Puget Sound Area. It was That Look that recognized how OBVIOUS it would be that a furnace would begin making such grinding noises at this particular moment in time.
A few minutes later the grinding stopped, and we went about our business of the evening.
Off and on all weekend we stopped and held our breath as the grinding came and went. We waited. We hoped. We crossed our fingers. We prayed the furnace would last through the weekend.
On Saturday afternoon – New Year’s Day – I got a call from my sister, Jody, who reported that Gordy seemed to be slipping away, letting go. She said I should think about coming home soon, and that his daughter, Pam, was already on an airplane.
Even though Gordy had been diagnosed eight months ago, this plunge still took me by surprise. Just a week earlier at Christmastime he was up and about, visiting family and eating lutefisk. It seemed we might get another month with him at least.
Upon hearing this news I did what I always to do cope… I started doing things. I cleaned, I packed, I researched airline ticket prices, I rearranged plans, I organized the kitchen cabinets. I kept moving.
Meanwhile, the grinding furnace got so bad that on Sunday afternoon we shut it down from the circuit breaker.
It was cold that weekend. Seattle was experiencing record-breaking low temperatures. We borrowed space heaters from friends and shuffled them around the house with us. We slept in ski hats and wools socks.
Monday morning, January 3rd, was a regular morning. I woke up, I took a shower, I fed Ruthie breakfast, I called someone to fix the furnace. Around 11am the phone rang.
I recently read an excerpt of Carole Radziwill’s memoir, “What Remains,” in which she describes what happens between the moment an event happens and when you find out about it, how she was sipping a glass of wine and reading Pride and Prejudice as her friend’s airplane spiraled downward into the ocean.
I was sleeping when Gordy died. While he drifted off into the peacefulness of the early dawn in his own bedroom, I was completely unaware that something significant was transpiring in my life, that I was losing the man who had anchored me throughout the confusing years of my childhood.
In the morning when I awoke, when I fed Ruthie breakfast and called the furnace repair guy, I had no idea that I had just experienced a loss.
At 11:00 a.m. when I picked up the phone, my mom was crying on the other end. Through her sobs I heard her say, “Gordy is walking the streets of gold.”
I was standing in the laundry room where I had been loading the washing machine. I was crying, and the doorbell rang.
Almost every significant event throughout Gordy’s illness is somehow tied to a major home maintenance project. When I first received the news that Gordy had cancer, Bryan and I were meeting with contractors who were bidding out the remodel of our basement. And now, as the news of his passing was still sinking in I walked a sales representative through my house pointing out air vents and faulty duct work.
People die. Life goes on.
Never before in my life – and probably never again – will that fact be made more clear to me.
Yesterday we finally turned on our new furnace for the winter season. It purred ever so quietly, and the air blew through the vents with a force of confidence.
I felt warm, and I remembered.