If anyone had told me that shivering at home with two cats for five days with zero heat would land me a weekly newspaper column, I’d have said they were balmy and been envious.
We don’t see much snow or frigid temperatures in Southern Oregon, but one day in December, my boys (cats), Oliver and Cassidy, and I noticed an increasing chill. I checked the thermostat and confirmed my suspicion that the downstairs heating unit had called it quits just when I needed it most. The sustained single digit highs our valley endured, when our normal low for the month was 33, had proved too much. I reassured myself and the boys that we still had the upstairs heater until it dawned like a candle in a cave that the remaining unit might be panting to do double duty. What if . . . As if reading my fear, the bugger followed suit and began spewing cold air.
Many households in the area suffered during the icy snap. The heating/AC people were living fat and calling the shots. The failures happened at the crest of a weekend, so the service guy had time to smoke a cigarette in his truck before landing on my doorstep five minutes after overtime kicked in. The two heat pumps had different issues. One needed a part that had to be ordered from the Ukraine, or maybe it was Utah, I don’t recall, and on and on with the waiting and trials.
I didn’t relish the idea of moving to a hotel with the boys. I’d tried it before. So, as the drama heated up while the cooling trend moved through my house, the meat locker, a grain of Yankee ingenuity took root. I crawled my Honda through a depth of snow a Minnesotan would use for a margarita, and bought four space heaters from the delighted folks at my neighborhood hardware store. I employed creative tactics to survive, like stationing a space heater in the doorway of my bedroom and camping there, further bundling up occasionally to venture to the Arctic netherlands, which was my living room. After a couple of days of making myself quite at home, my bedchamber began to resemble a hamster cage without the fun wheel.
The situation evolved from impossible (hand-wringing and whining) to challenging (packing on layers and lending new meaning to the term, seven-layer dip) to hilarious (the air became so dry from the space heaters, I found I could keep one of them running with static electricity from rubbing the two cats together). That last exaggerated entry was indicative of what began to happen almost imperceptibly. Try as I did to ignore her, my inner stand-up comedian insisted on having the stage. It was little wonder with the material I supplied.
I decided to query Bob Hunter, our local newspaper editor, about the possibility of writing it up for my fellow sufferers; maybe their situation wouldn’t seem so bleak. I’d previously written monthly articles for a magazine they no longer published and hoped he’d remember me. He did. I verbally passed along my idea and what I considered were a couple of zingers. Fortunately, he laughed and said it sounded good. I didn’t stop there, but inquired how much would he pay (for such a gem). I loved seeing myself in print as much as the next writer, but I was a professional worthy of hire, plus I needed to pay for my new inducer motor. We agreed on a price and I went to work. I delivered the article, “Nine Shades of Silver Linings,” to his inbox before the deadline. A few days later, I opened the Sunday edition to discover a slice from my life right there for all to see.
I began to receive positive feedback in the form of Facebook messages and emails, one of which was from Mr. Hunter, who asked if I’d be interested in being one of two or three rotating weekly columnists for the paper. The timing was right, since a couple of others had moved on.
I may have blacked out next, but thank heaven for email where one has ample opportunity to recover and organize one’s thoughts, then proceed to sound like an over-eager newbie.
The thing is, I had desired a column of my own, unintentionally keeping it to myself. I guess I assumed it was an unlikely dream. But I believe our dreams originate somewhere beyond us, and I’m grateful for the gift. Now, more than two years on, I’m writing the weekly column, Southern Oregon Journal, mostly by myself, for as long as I’m supposed to be there.
Never underestimate the power behind dire circumstances.
May all your heat sources remain true.
Peggy Dover is a freelance writer and novelist living in Eagle Point, Oregon. Dover is represented by the MacGregor Literary Agency. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.