Posted by: Jim E | May 15, 2011

It Happened Again…Cold, To Furnace, To Heater, To The Michigan Winter Of 1965…

Well, it happened again…my mind slipped into that “funny gear” again…I got up this morning and noticed it was a little chilly…at least for Little Rock temps…this time of year it should be in the 80’s…but it will only be in the high 60’s today…a cool NW wind is coming out of the tundra in Canada…and carrying that cold weather way south…so for the next few days, it will be cool…so after being up for a while, I walked back through the house…and then “it happened”…I really love it when “it happens”…for I love going places without leaving the house…it always reminds me of Willa Cather’s quote: Life began for me when I ceased to admire and began to remember.”…and I think it happens more as the years go by…I have mentioned this phenomenon before a couple of times…so here’s how it went, blow by blow…in less than 20 steps and 10 seconds…

It was only 59 degrees at about 8:00…I thought, that is cool for Little Rock…it’s cool enough, I thought for some people’s furnace to click on (even on the news they sometime call it a “heater”…you know, “It may be cold enough to use your heater.”)…then all the sudden I was back in Earl and Veta Ellis’ house in Croswell, MI in 1965…a wonderful Christian couple, they adopted us while we lived in Croswell)…they had a “heater” in their living room…it heated the whole house…even the second floor, through a grate in the ceiling in the living room and the heat would rise upstairs…it was a modern heater, you could see the flame when it turned on…it intrigued me, a Minnesota boy, thinking I have never seen one of these before…and also thinking it would not do the job in a Minnesota winter…

Then my mind jumped to the farm house we rented, (above) just outside of town…we had just moved to Croswell, MI after graduating from Mankato State College in Southern Minnesota…(now called Minnesota State University, I believe)…now in Croswell and living on the “farm”…it was perfect for us…we rented from Irving Dingman who owned the farm and still farmed the land…we just rented the house…some of it was remodeled and he would put in a new bathroom upstairs a year later…he had also put in a new oil burning furnace (you knew I would get back to a heater or furnace or something, didn’t you???)…before we moved in…we were impressed…

Here we were just out of college, “poor as church mice” (as my Mom used to say)…we had just enough money to travel to Croswell from Minneapolis…married in 1963, before we finished college…so I had over a year to finish when we got married…we had one baby, Jay, in arms…and one on the way, Jared, before we got to this first teaching job in Michigan…we signed that year for something like $4,400…if I remember that was something less than $100 net every two weeks…no, you are wrong…it was a small amount even then…and though we rented this fully furnished house for $50 a month…it was not easy to make ends meet…when we met Mr. Dingman and said we would love to rent the house…I had to ask him, now get this…if he could wait until I got my first paycheck for his first months rent…that was hard for me to do…but I had to ask…he said that would not be a problem at all…he was a wonderful man (here is Mr. Dingman and Jay, Jared and me… Jess and Jeremy would come along later)…and as time went on he and his wife treated us like their kids…but that isn’t all…a few days later an even more difficult thing to ask…I had to go to him…not about the $50 rent…but I asked him if he could loan me, I think it was $5 for formula for the baby…we could get along on what we had…but not our baby…it sounds so foolish today…but it happened…Mr. Dingman’s response as he reached for his billfold was, “Is that enough?”…I told him, “Yes.” (he tried to give me more)…he said, “There is more where that came from.”…I learned a lesson to use later in life many times from this hero of mine…

So where’s the furnace or “heater” you ask???…comin’ up I say…the winter of 1965-66 was a “humdinger” as they say (my Mom said that too)…Mr. Dingman and his wife went south for the winter months…they left a tractor in the barn, right behind our house for me to use…for plowing snow on the place in the winter…I don’t know how many times I used it…but it was a lot…we had many days of school off because of the winter that year…almost every week for a couple of months we had at least one day called off…and all of those days I was out on the tractor plowing us out…and also Wildcat Road…which ran in front of our house, was the last to be plowed it seemed…so I did that many times too…all this time Judie was pregnant with our next son…he was due during those snowiest days…and had to keep the road open…then came the mother of all storms…

I mentioned that we had a new furnace…and I checked the oil tank often to make sure it had enough oil…we had filled it a couple of times already that winter…and money was tight…I checked it and it seemed okay…but this storm that hit was big…the wind was vicious and the snow was driven by that wind…the house was not insulated and the wind basically blew through the house…the furnace ran constantly…and it got progressively colder and colder…I checked the furnace…then the oil tank…it was empty…and we were snowed in…the road in these blizzard conditions could not be kept open…and those of you who have lived in open areas like farm land, know what I mean…blowing snow and so cold…out came the blankets and comforters to keep the baby warm…and we called Earl’s Oil Company…or should I say…Earl Odoerfer…he was the company as far as I was concerned…it was night and he was done for the day…and our road was snowed in…and…

Earl went to work…more concerned about us than about his hours…he made some phone calls…we made some phone calls…and there up on the corner of Wildcat Road and the hiway…we saw police lights and other lights…we could see his oil truck…and then snowmobiles…the result???…they filled 5 gallon oil cans and the snowmobiles brought it down the the house and filled the tank that way…we had heat…on what could have been a dangerous time…we had heat…Earl came with one of the snowmobiles to check to see if the furnace was working and to make sure we would have enough through the night…he would come out and fill it up all the way the next day when he could get in to our house…he told me…from now on, don’t you worry about the money…you make sure you are filled up…and we will worry about the money later…I thanked him…we thanked him…we had heat…

We were young…we were poor and didn’t know it (that never entered our minds)…we were proud and maybe dumb…and didn’t want to ask for help…even when it put us in some danger…but you know, there were great people all around us who were willing to help…willing to stand with us even when we didn’t know how to stand…I will never forget those people…goodness to the core of their being…so “heater” or “furnace”, it doesn’t really matter…the fact that my mind went into that “funny gear” again and remembered, is so good…because what matters is whether we have learned to do what those before us did…and pass it on to another generation…and II Timothy 2:2 comes to mind here: “And what you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses entrust to faithful men who will be able to teach other also.”…we have tried to do that…what a great morning…a trip back 46 years and many states away…without leaving the house…what a great morning!!!…

“Life began for me when I ceased to admire and began to remember.” Willa Cather…

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Responses

  1. I enjoyed reading this post. I like to see how God provides for people. We are chilly today, in fact, I have a fire going in our cook stove.

    ~Cheryl

  2. Thanks for sharing,I really enjoyed this post. The funny thing is we lived on a farm for a year on Wildcat Road Tipp City, Ohio. It was definitely an experience the well water, oil heat, snakes, bees in the house. Some days I miss it, especially looking out the picture window seeing deer standing in the corn field. The best story I have from our farm was the day my 3 year son decided to follow our dog into the corn field. We couldn’t find him, and we hear this little voice yelling help, help. I tell my husband that he is in the cornfield Garry’s says no he isn’t. But sure enough he was. Garry tell hims to keep yelling what happens he stops. To make a long story short we find him and laugh about it today. Thanks for the flashbacks

    • Saun…there are a hundred stories from those early years…I remember the “flies”…it seemed like there were millions of them…and of course, there were…loved your story…we had a field right across “Wildcat Road” from “our place”…dairy cows…there it was that our youngest, Jay, learned to say “cows” and “moo”…big thing in those early days…memories are fun today…some not so fun when we experienced them…but make up what we are now…thanks again…

  3. Jim, that’s a wonderful story and memory. I too, like remembering the past, especially times that made me a stronger person. Thank you so much for encouraging me to remember.
    Take care,
    Julie


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