Come 1950’s southern Indiana November, our family formally embraced Winter, Old School style. This involved several steps.
First my dad would lug those heavy wooden storm windows up from the basement. They weren’t the triple-track, already-in-place variety popular in the ‘60’s and certainly not the wimpy double-pane ones we have today. These were honest-to-goodness wooden storm windows that were clamped in place over the regular windows and stayed there till Spring. No outside air for us till April! This picture is dated November, 1953, of me nonchalantly eating an ice cream cone, while Dad is muscling those monster storms and probably swearing under his breath. The back reads: “Carol ‘supervising’ while Dad works.” You gotta watch the help every minute!
Next Mom would order a coal delivery. Yes, we had a coal-fired furnace, which my dad fed twice a day, after dumping the clinkers (think hard coal ashes) with a pair of tongs into a metal wash tub. The coal deliveryman would back his truck down our driveway, stop at the open window of the basement coal bin, install the connecting chute, and shovel, amid a cloud of black dust. After the coal delivery, Dad would turn on the furnace. Remember that funky smell? It was equal parts forest fire and wet fur, with a little dust thrown in for good measure.
Of course, we’d immediately have a spell of Indian Summer and be sweltering inside our tropical house. But we’d suffer along in shorts and sleeveless shirts until the seasonal weather returned.
Meanwhile, Mom was rearranging closets. She’d load up the back rack with summer dresses, etc., and bring forward the long-sleeved shirts, the wool skirts and the winter coats.
When my husband recently turned on our furnace here in the apartment for the first time, it gave off the same smell from the ‘50’s. Besides setting off the fire alarm, it reminded me of that long-ago ritual. Maybe it’s good to remember that those “simpler times,” weren’t so simple.