It’s a Yankee thing, like the rule for switching off lamps if you’ll be out of the room for more than fifteen seconds. Yikers! For those of us with addled minds, we might stand stock still as we reason, “Brushing my teeth will take a good two minutes, if I include twisting off the cap, wetting the toothbrush, plus I’ve been allotting extra time for those molars. ..."
Even stopping to over-think this question burns up energy in those lamps still glowing away incandescently, expensively. Hmm, maybe it’s better to stand and ponder in the dark?
Vineyarders are Yankees in a plus size. If you place these already insanely frugal, spartan New Englanders on an island where in the winter creature comforts are few and far between, deprive them of an off-season income because all the people with wallets left on Columbus Day ferries, then add to that mix of misery cold weather and higher prices for everything, absolutely everything, then you’ll find a bunch of us wandering around our home sweet ice boxes wondering how we can pinch still more pennies on utility and gas bills.
What keeps us from freezing altogether indoors is the requirement to keep the walls warm enough that the pipes don’t turn into the metal equivalent of the intestines of Otzi Man. So we’re talkin’ over 32 degrees. Colder than that and we, too, will be excavate-able in 5,300 years.
But signaling to a determinedly cheap Yankee that he can go as low as thirty-three degrees inside his home is pretty much like telling today’s baseball players it’s okay to pop those anabolic steroids.
Here are some of the great legends of Island Human Popsicle History:
Yes, as the title above suggests, I knew a man who’d rigged up a sleeping bag as leisure wear. He cut out two holes for his feet (“I wear four layers of socks in increasing amounts of thickness”), openings for his arms (“Underneath I always got on thermal underwear, sweatpants, sweatshirt, a coupla’ sweaters”), then he zipped up the sleeping bag around his neck and, like a cherry on a Virgin Mary, popped a woolen hat on his head. He also recognized a good hint when it was properly wrapped around him: he slept in his sleeping bag.
In situations such as the above, the questioner might have a fleeting impulse to inquire, when did this person bathe and don fresh clothes? But then this moment of curiosity is replaced with a quick hard reflexive counter-notion of totally not wanting to know.
A close friend of mine, of Scottish descent, so you mix in Highlands thrift with Yankee squeeze-that-nickel with Island pure panic, lives in a drafty old Victorian house in Oak Bluffs. Like all other owners of chilly old homes, during the winter she abandons all but her kitchen and interior parlor and dining room. And then she goes a step beyond what many of us are predisposed to do: She wears a knit cap, a scarf and a jacket indoors. The first few times you visit her in the winter, you ask where she’s off to. Until you realize she’s off to nowhere. Were she off to somewhere beyond her front door, she’d be piling on extra layers including a tubby down coat.
One thing you learn when you’ve lived in a cold land for any length of time is that, well, you can stand it. Chances are good it won’t kill you. Take it from an original Cali girl, before I started to visit the east coast in earnest in winter, I was downright phobic about the prospect of falling dead from one big blast of frosty air. In my early travels here in winter, I wore two layers of tights, thermal underwear, wool leggings, and that was just for starters.
In ‘91 when the three Nadlers moved to the Vineyard year-round, I obsessed about the possibility that our furnace would break, a nor’easter would be raging, and the electricity would sizzle out. The result? We’d die within seven minutes. I was convinced of that.
The furnace in question, by the way, had been installed in 1941 by the summer folks who owned the cottage before us. It was designed to warm up the rooms on those infrequent August nights when the fogs rolled in and the temperature dipped to sixty degrees. It wasn’t designed to chug away all day and all night throughout a New England winter.
This furnace, for some unfathomable reason, had been installed in the garage. Pipes had been laid underground to churn hot air into the house. First time the unit broke down, our heating guy assessed the situation: “Sorry to tell you, folks, but most of the heat is going up into your lawn.”
Our grass would be fine but we would be three human fish sticks.
I looked up sleeping bags in the Sears catalogue. I ordered three of those babies in the below-O category, the ones that keep folks alive on Mount Everest. But then I wondered, did that include Mount Everest in a storm? What about an avalanche? Perhaps no sleeping bag, of however many layers of flannel, could guarantee that happy outcome. Indeed, the slopes of Everest are strewn with mountaineers who drew their last oxygen-0 breath in their sleeping bags.
So where did that leave us? In a further panic, I pictured the three of us bundled in our bulky below-0 bags, hunched around the wood-stove, as we shivered and assured each other help would come and, in Mr. Churchill’s words, to never never never never never give up.
Now I know we can get through these long frigideous nights. A lot of people rely on their sweetie pies for spooning, but for a kick-ass spinster like me, a cuddly plump furball of a dog also does the trick nicely. In fact, my dog is entirely pragmatic about the shared heat of a pair of sentient beings. In summer I rarely hear from him; he never writes, he never phones, he never texts: He’s off looking for shade, indoors or out.
More can be said on this topic of keeping warm in the off off season, but my fingers are freezing up over the keyboard and, regardless of the fact that I’m already dressed in daytime clothes, it’s time to pile into my yellow polar fleece, ankle-length bathrobe.
The very image of Heaven. For Eskimos ...