Heidi Thurston column: The battle over the coal stove

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, March 3, 2009

In everyone’s life there is often a person who leaves an impression so strong that he or she seems to live on forever. Such a person was my grandfather.
One of the earliest things I recall about him was his consistent battle with my grandmother over the small coal stove in their inner-city apartment.
My grandfather was a firm believer in heat of any kind and insisted that the draft on the stove remain open in order to “get the room really warm.”
Grandmother, however, through knowledge obtained from books or others, used to inform him, “Too much heat is unhealthy.”
And so they went on arguing winter after winter and with the cool temperatures in Denmark this would often go on from late in the months of August until late in the month of April.
In the summer, of course, things were simple.
They just transferred their bickering during the few summer months to a battle over whether or not the windows should be open or closed. Grandfather wanted them shut, and grandmother wanted the fresh air in.
I entered into their arguments many a time when my grandfather would maintain that his little granddaughter should “dress warm,” and this would be fine in November or December when you could count on freezing weather. But when in mid-April he would require that I wear long stockings, sweaters and bloomers over my regular underwear (which used to embarrass me no end since they made me bulge all over the place), I would turn to my grandmother for help.
She would quietly let me remove one of the sweaters, grandfather’s scarf, his woolen cap, and the bloomers, after which she would turn around and give her husband a significant look.
Around the time he was about to open his mouth and object, I was diplomatically sent out of the room, but that did not keep me from listening to the two of them argue while I stood outside the door.
Shortly after my sixth birthday, my grandparents moved into a modern senior citizens apartment complex that featured central heat. This of course meant no coal stove and no draft over which to argue!
This had my whole family very concerned since so much of my grandparents’ affection for each other really showed up in their “arguments.”
It had been their way of communicating, and in going along with their lifelong routine she would close the draft with determination when he went out of the room while he in turn would open it as soon as grandmother went into the kitchen to prepare their meals.
When they moved in to their new home, everyone in the family held their breaths for a week waiting, and then they all drew a deep sigh of relief when it turned out that the new apartment had a small ventilation door that, when opened, would let in fresh air.
It was located up high on the wall behind grandfather’s rocking chair and had a long string attached so it could easily be opened and closed.
And so with this, new found ground for a hassle.
Grandmother quietly kept opening the vent door to let in fresh air while grandfather, just as quickly, kept closing it when she left the room.
Everything was again as usual.
Heidi Thurston lives in Kannapolis with her husband, Chuck.