Saturday, October 28, 2006


It's not just for breakfast anymore!

When will the elderly learn to listen to their children and heed their advice? I think this is a question that many 40 somethings face when they are dealing with loving parental units who enjoy their independence as they continue to grow older, but every once in a while will ask for advice from their children.

But, will they listen? No. Oh, my goodness no.

Take for instance my parents... Mama Bear and Papa Bear... who bought the house we live in some 25+ years ago. It was not a young home when it was purchased and it has gone through a number of changes. We have painted and we have wall papered. We have carpeted and we have ripped carpet up to reveal beautiful hard wood floors. And then we carpeted right back over them. We have installed new light fixtures and we have used contact paper in ways never thought of by man. We are, in a word, resourceful.

There are two things that are the bane of my existence in this home: the electrical system and the heating/cooling system.

It has probably been 23 years ago when a fire broke out in the walls of my parent's bedroom. The official cause was faulty electrical wiring in the walls. The unofficial cause had to do with my parents causing so much heat in the bedroom. Pause now in horror. I remember waking up to an odd noise and then the telephone ringing as our neighbor had seen the smoke, and was calling to wake us up and let us know that he had called the Fire Department. I threw on some clothes, grabbed the dog, and woke my younger brother up to get out of house. We all stood outside while the volunteer fire department took care of the small fire and with grateful hearts, we returned to the house and had a long discussion about the faulty electrical wiring.

Our house is odd in that the first owners (we are the second) initially built the house, and then decided to enlarge it a couple of times. This explains the five fuse boxes, as well as the fact that our washing machine sits in the kitchen, while the dryer is in the den. I suppose the house was built before the invention of the dryer, as there are old-fashioned clotheslines in the backyard.

I remember asking then what it would take to re-do the eletrical wiring, and my parents told me it would take too much money. To this day, that is the answer. We have probably purchased enough 15 and 30 watt fuses to cover the cost. One must be careful with our wiring. Especially in the kitchen. For instance, you cannot microwave popcorn and do laundry at the same time while brewing a pot of coffee. Try that too many times, and you will be making daily runs to Wal-Mart or Home Depot for more fuses.

The second problem is our heating/cooling system. We have central heat and air, with a gas furnace that runs the heater in the winter. Our air conditioning system has a big problem of condensation and water run-off. The hottest parts of the summer find us heading into the attic with a turkey baster to pull water out of an overflow tray. Hmm... maybe it is time for a new one? Something a little more modern.

No. We'd much rather have the water spill out of the tray, soak through the drywall and sit back to watch large chunks of our living room ceiling fall. The biggest happening last year with a 4x8 section of drywall hitting the floor.

Last winter we were sitting comfortably in the heat when a small explosion sounded from the attic area. My younger brother was here at the time, and we stared at each other... stared at the attic door... and then proceeded to argue about who needed to traipse up there and check the problem out. I think we were both upstairs with flashlights trying to determine if anything had caught fire and we were going to die in our sleep.

We had a discussion at that time about replacing the furnace, but the parents did not see the need, and so the unit was repaired and we spent a lot of evenings sniffing around for gas leaks and grateful that my mother no longer smoked a pack of cigarettes a day.

This summer, we had another leak in the ceiling (this time in our dining room) that had nothing to do with our air conditioning unit, but with hail damage we knew nothing about. The insurance paid enough money that we were able to fix the leak and put in a badly needed ceiling in our den. That is when the fun began.

We had our kitchen redecorated and my mother finally acquiesed to purchase new carpet in the den, dining room, living room and hallway. The infamous pink carpet remains in the master bedroom, where my parents have hopefully cooled down some since the fire many years ago. We don't want anyone breaking a hip!

Then, we got the bright idea to purchase new furniture and move a couple of the rooms around. The formal living room is now our family room and the den has been restored as a Parlor. My mom just loves using that word. Everything was going swell, until... it was time to service the gas furnace.

"Guess what, Mr. and Mrs. Bell? Your furnace is leaking carbon monoxide."

Considering that we had been running our heat for a couple of weeks, this did not bode well. It struck fear and terror into my heart. I would think the old people were trying to off me for my insurance policy, but that they would be going down in the process as well. Of course, it could be a murder-suicide scenario... except that the Mom is really enjoying all the changes to our house.

Okay. What now? Now... we FINALLY get a new furnace. The old one is about 450 pounds, while the new one will be about 150 pounds, and we will see a significantly reduced gas bill. This makes us very happy.

The problem is that sometimes the old people don't think things through. Case in point: not two days after the verdict, I enter from the cool outdoors to a toasty warm home. I pause. I listen. I HEAR THE FREAKIN' HEAT RUNNING!!!

"Um... aren't we supposed to not run the heater FOR FEAR OF DEATH?!"

"It's okay as long as we only run it a short time."

"Because, a short exposure to carbon monoxide will only kill off half of our remaining brain cells?"

(Disgruntled sigh) "Okay, fine. Turn off the heater." Which I promptly did.

I cannot tell you how many times in the past week (a rather chilly week at that) when I have awakened from my slumber to feel and hear the heater running. I suppose I should just be happy to have lived through the night as my parents continue to cheat Death on a daily basis.

So, it was no surprise for me this morning as my father stumbled out into the hallway and I heard a pause in his footsteps. That could only mean one thing... he was standing at the thermostat and turning on the heat.

Fifteen seconds later and we heard a very familiar explosion sound from the attic. I promptly walked into the hallway... glared at my father who was standing with an astonished look on his face... and said "Well... that didn't sound good."

I walked over and turned the heat back off and waited for the smell of gas to permeate our house.

Still smelling the air until the new furnace arrives on Monday.

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