I remember the thermostat wars well. Dad, wearing a sweater over and long johns under his white shirt and polyester slacks, would sidle over to the living room wall and twist the dial until the familiar whoomph of the gas-ignited flames kicked in--at which point my young sisters and I would dive for nearby floor registers, anxiously awaiting the hot, dusty breath as our old furnace wheezed from a dark corner in the basement. Huddled over a metal grate behind the bathroom door, I'd pull my dress down over my knees, creating a warm tent for my chilled legs. For a few precious moments I basked in the glow of my own private hearth, deliriously content until Mom appeared from out of the kitchen were she'd been slaving over our dinner and promptly turn the thermostat down. Eventually my father got cold and turned it up again, and the whole thing started over as they battled over room tempature in a silly adult game of furnace tag.
My parents' Sunday afternoon ritual lasted almost into my teens, even after we moved out of the old two-story parsonage and into a house with a more efficient furnace and better insulation. By then some of the house rules had relaxed and I was allowed to change into slacks after church, yet winter was winter and Dad's blood still ran thin so I continued to enjoy sitting by the register reading the Sunday comics, sometimes falling asleep curled next to the vent with a blanket and a pillow.
Then one day everything changed. Smack dab in the middle of a glorious furnace-induced nap, Mom marched across the living room and flipped the thermostat all the way off. Not down. Off. With sweat beading on her furrowed brow, she crossed her arms, daring my father to eject himself from the Easy-Boy and challenge her. He took one look at his flushed wife and grabbed an aghan off the back of the chair. Victorious, she walked back to the kitchen, but as soon as she was out of sight, he tip-toed over to the thermostat and notched it back up. A few minutes later, Mom stomped back into the room and turned it down so forcefully the lid popped off. Dad leapt to his feet and snapped the cover back in place before turning it up. She opened a window. He closed it. She opened two more. He closed and locked them. From opposite sides of the living room they stared each other down without a word. Ours was a fundamentalist Christian home where swearing wasn't allowed, but if looks were cuss words, they were both damned to hell for sure.
Suddenly my mother smiled. Without taking her eyes off my dad, she stripped down to her bra and panties, then walked past her stunned husband and opened the front door where she stood facing our neighbor's house. I looked at my dad, who normally ran his household with a firm but loving omnipotence, wondering how he would handle my obviously half-crazed mom without causing a stir--another thing we Midwesterners weren't supposed to do--and that my Dad reserved for crucial times. I figured this was one of those times and was about to slink down the hall to my bedroom when he answered my gaze with a shrug and I instantly knew that for the first time in my life, she had beaten him. I watched in amazement as he slowly walked over to my mother and gently kissed her on the back of her wet neck before quietly closing the door. Mom put her clothes back on and Dad put on another sweater. From then on, the thermostat remained at 62.
I take after my Dad. I moved to California when I was thirty-nine in order to escape the blustery cold winters and long months of chill that froze me to the bone year after year. Three short months of summer was never long enough to completely warm my body fully before the dark clouds of October drew an icy arm around my shivering shoulders, threatening to bury jack-o-lanterns in a foot of snow. It's taken seven warm winters for me to completly thaw out, and up until this year, I have basked in the glow of this sunny state with no seeming limit to my enjoyment of even the hottest days.
Then one day everything changed. Somewhere in the middle of my back, a fire started, crept up my spine and flushed my cheeks with a prickly heat that sent me to the nearest open window. I began waking in the night with my comforter kicked off the bed, drowning in soaked sheets. Once a died-in-the-goosedown cuddler, I now hug my side of the mattress rather than stick to M's skin like gum on a hot sidewalk.
Recently I soaked my cotton top in water before meeting a massage client at the door, in an attempt to keep cool for the hour-long session ahead of us. When I answered the door, P looked at me, puzzled.
"I didn't know we were having a wet t-shirt contest today," she wise-cracked.
"Yeah, well, sorry," I said, herding her toward my studio. "I win."
Lately I'm drawn to fans. There are no less than four of them oscillating from the coolest corners of the house on any given day. Sometimes I pull my sundress over the box fan, creating a cool tent for my sweaty legs as I bask in the comfort of my own private breeze, deliriously content for a few precious moments between hot flashes of perspir...um, inspiration.