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Carrol Vertrees: Thermostats crank up the heat on memories

Carrol Vertrees

Carrol Vertrees

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Updated: February 26, 2013 2:40PM



I have this thing about thermostats — the first room thermostat was invented in 1883, shortly before I was.

I never saw one until well past the age of puberty. In our farmhouse we could not have used one anyway, a memory that hits me in an even mildly bleak midwinter.

This handy little gadget signals in welcome heat, not like the hot air from Washington, but the real stuff that warms the cockles of even the coldest heart.

And that leads me to this: “Are there cockles in every heart? What the heck is a cockle?” Well, cockles are a type of bivalve mollusk — they were once a big part of the British diet. This expression has been around since the 18th century, but nobody knows for sure how it became a part of our expression system.

But this I know — if my heart has cockles I want to be near a thermostat in the deep chill of winter. Who wants cold cockles?

The profound thermostatic-cockles thing turned up my memory stuff when I saw in the paper that our fiscal cliff government folks may demand tighter regulations for fireplace safety.

Industry standards for gas fireplaces allow some glass fronts temperatures to reach 1,328 degrees. The danger, of course, is that little kids will burn themselves while trying to get warm. I hope they work it out.

Back home in the days of yore or earlier, our farmhouse had no central heat — most rural homes didn’t. We had a nifty little fireplace that did its work if you stood close. No thermostat was involved — it burned whatever we threw into it — well, wood or coal at least.

How did we warm our shivering bodies? Well there were two sides to this procedure — front and back, one side at a time. We had a screen thing in front of the flames, not for our safety but to block hot sparks from hitting the rug.

The little fireplace was handy, too, for popping corn. We had a corn popper with a long handle — shaking it over the flames was country music to us. This was a big part of our rural comfort, fun zone.

I never understood why rooms had names. Our little fireplace was in the front room, where it greeted us and visitors when we came in from the cold outdoors. We had a heating stove in another room — some called it the living room and some said it was the sitting room. It was a friendly room by any name. But I still liked to warm my muscular little body in front of the fireplace.

I remember those winter days as if they were yesterdays — well maybe a passel of yesterdays, but clear memories no matter how long ago this was. I probably should get help — sometimes when the thermostat kicks on, I stand by a register trying to warm one side at a time.

Well, do not laugh — the cockles of my aging heart get cold, here in the winter of my long life.

And now when I buy microwave popcorn, I feel guilty, like betraying my old friendship with our little fireplace there in the front room of my young world.

It is a bit sad, like what has happened to our old-fashioned percolators. The modern ones are nice, but I miss the perking music. I always tried to guess what tune the percolator was playing. Just thinking of that perks up and warms the cockles of my old heart.



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