Archive for March 2nd, 2008

I’ve always enjoyed genealogy and sharing family stories with my kids. Now that I’m a Nana, it somehow seems even more urgent (and fun!) for me to record things for prosperity so that our descendants will know the people from whom they came — even if for the most part, they were very “ordinary” people, living very “ordinary” lives.

My parents were both good story-tellers about their early years. Dad has his own blog now, and with enough coaxing, perhaps Mom will do the same. There are three main stories I loved so much as a child that I gave them titles and have retold them to my own children. They may remember them, but it’s good to have them in writing. One of my favorites involved my dad as a child in the 1930s, when my grandparents decided to modernize the monstrous coal-burning furnace in the basement of their house. Dad often told me the story of “the mysterious furnace,” which he once used as a subject of a school paper. Unfortunately, the paper no longer exists, but to the best of my recollection, I will retell his story:

Young Dad

One winter, my father’s parents decided to convert their coal furnace to electricity. My grandmother’s cousin, Charlie Trimble, was an electrician in their small rural town. They asked him to come over and wire the furnace for electricity.

Granddad watched as Charlie finished up the job. The furnace worked well and soon the whole house was toasty warm. Granddad and Charlie climbed the stairs, turned off the light, and Charlie departed. Shortly after Charlie left, the house began to get chilly, so Granddad decided he had better check on the furnace. He flipped on the light switch at the top of the stairs and descended to the basement. Expecting to find something wrong with the furnace, he was puzzled to find it roaring away. Satisfied that the furnace appeared to be working properly, he went back up the stairs and flipped off the light.

Much time passed and still the house did not warm up so he called Charlie back to see what the trouble was. Charlie and Granddad returned to the basement, turning the light on as they climbed down the stairs. When they reached the furnace it was roaring loudly. Charlie could not figure out the problem—he checked it all over and could find nothing wrong. All the time he was there, the furnace ran perfectly and the house again grew warm, but shortly after Charlie left, the house cooled off once more.

While Charlie and Granddad had been working on the furnace, my dad had been playing outdoors. He knew they were having a lot of trouble getting the furnace to work right. When Dad decided to go into the house, he entered through the outside basement doors, thinking Granddad and Charlie might still be there. The basement was quiet as he stumbled in the darkness up the stairs to turn on the light. As he flipped on the switch, the furnace began to roar. Startled, he turned around to look, and then decided to run and tell Granddad that the furnace was working again. However, just as he flipped off the light switch, the furnace abruptly stopped! Wondering why it had stopped so suddenly, he turned the light back on to have a look and just as he did, the furnace started up. He turned the light off and the furnace quit. He turned the light on and the furnace roared—he did this several times in amazement, and then ran to tell Granddad about the weird goings-on.

XT Prentis

Granddad hurriedly went to the basement to check out my dad’s unexplained mystery. He discovered that by mistake, Charlie had hooked the furnace up to the light at the top of the stairs, so whenever someone had been in the basement the furnace worked beautifully and pumped out the heat, but as soon as they had gone back upstairs and turned off the light, the electricity to the furnace was disconnected and the furnace stopped working! My dad had solved the case of the mysterious furnace. Charlie returned to the house and rewired the electrical connection so that it would operate on a different circuit.

Whenever my dad told this amusing story, my mother would jokingly add, “That’s probably the only time in your life you remembered to turn off the light when you left a room!” Mom grew up in the same small town and even though Charlie really was a very good electrician, word must have gotten around about his goof, because she also recalled her own father saying, completely in jest, “If you want some electrical work done properly, for heaven’s sake, don’t call Charlie Trimble!”

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