It was the middle of the night, dark and cold. My husband and I sat up from bed with a start. “What was that?” And in the same second, “Oh, my God, The burner went on.” He jumped over the cat while I urged him, “Hurry! Turn it down!” In a few bounds he made it to the dining room and grabbed the thermostat, pushing the little needle down as far as it would go. The sound stopped.

After a few moments of blaming each other for being the culprit who left the burner on, we settled into discussing how much it had just cost us to burn fuel oil for two minutes in August. It was certainly not part of our carefully crafted plan for the coming winter.

Heating our homes is the topic wherever people get together these days. A friend recently told me he had just obtained an estimate for heating his house with fuel oil this winter: $10,000! He said he’s looking into getting a pellet system and I’m interested in how that works out. Should we get oil now or wait and see if the price goes down?

It brings me back to the days when we all did without many things because there was a war on. (There’s a war on now). The house my family lived in was heated by coal, which was fairly efficient but not always easy to get. When we did snag some, a truck load of the precious commodity would back up to our cellar window that held the coal chute in place. Then, with a deafening roar the whole load would fly down the metal slide. I remember once, for some unknown reason, the coal truck’s load was not sent down the chute but rather, just dumped on the snow in our side yard. My Dad, like everybody else’s dad, was in the service and not around to see to it that our family was not taken advantage of. So my mother gave each of us five kids a gunnysack, which we filled and then dumped, down cellar. I can still picture my mother, pregnant and wearing an old fur coat, picking the pieces of shiny black coal out of the snow to fill a sack that would not be too heavy to drag over to the cellar window.

Then there was the constant feeding of the beast. Every few hours my mother would call on one of us to go down cellar and throw a shovel load into the furnace. I remember the sound of the heavy metal grate that had to be shaken down to get rid of the “clinkers” every so often.

Upstairs we “shut off” as many rooms as we could do without being heated We draped heavy curtains over the doors to the living room and dining room and spent most our time in the kitchen. The main door that lead upstairs was closed off and we used only the kitchen stairs to get to our bedrooms. We stuffed socks in the windowsills.

It was a constant battle to stay warm and it still is.

One thing is for sure: That burner of ours is not going to go on again at least until October, late October, maybe November.