Our first winter in Wisconsin was brutal. As the temperatures steadily dropped, it became absolutely clear that we were unprepared for what was in store. We lacked the proper clothes, the proper vehicles and the proper attitude to face the frigid climate of the great north. But we were stuck. We had no choice but to endure. By the time December rolled around, shoveling the driveway had become second nature and picking ice chunks out of my beard was just a part of our cozy evening routine.
In an attempt to embrace the holiday season and accentuate the snowcapped evergreens that grew along the front of our house, I bought twenty-seven strands of Christmas lights and wrapped each branch as best I could. It looked nice. We put the aluminum tree in the front window and Jez proceeded to break about half the ornaments in less than a week. All in all, it felt like home. So, when faced with the question of whether to fly toward the family for the holidays, we checked the bank and account and decided to stay put. Everyone seemed a little disappointed, but we accepted the reality of the situation and told ourselves we’d make the best of it.
Man, we we stupid.
Instead of waking up to something nice and Norman Rockwellian—like a pile of presents under the tree or a fresh blanket of snow—we arose to discover that we had a broken furnace.
Filled with dread, we put on our coats and wool caps to make the trip to the coffee pot in the kitchen. Debating our next move, our breath hung in the air around us. As ice began to from on the windowsills, we tried to call the landlords, but they were out of town (in California, no less). We tried to call the heating company that had been out the week before and told us everything was all right. They didn’t answer. Finally, I tried to call my dad to see if he had any pointers. He correctly diagnosed the problem from 600 miles away without hesitation, “you need a new blower motor.”
I wish this story had a romantic twist, or an interesting save-the-day surprise, but it doesn’t. We tried to go about our Christmas business, but the temperature continued to drop. Instead of coming together, we went our separate ways, soaking up what little warmth we could from our various cooking endeavors—Cristi over a hot stove and me smoking a pork loin out back. The only time I recall being warm that day was standing in the backyard next to the grill.
I spent a lot of time that afternoon contemplating the homeless and less fortunate. Was a BROKEN heater better than no heater at all? At least we had lots of blankets and plenty of beer. In the end, we were lucky to have each other. We did everything as planned, laughed a little and eventually went to bed around 7 PM. I won’t lie—it was the worst Christmas of my life, but also the most memorable. Which doesn’t really mean a thing, except that no matter where I’ve found myself on Christmas morning since, I’m always thankful when the heat kicks on.