Fifty-Five Stay Alive

It’s All Good Electrical arrived at 9 a.m.

The electrician examined the electrical box in the garage and shook his head.  Walking into the house, we did our microwave demonstration. The lights dimmed.

He cringed.

“Do you mind if I take one of the wall plates off and look at the wiring?”

“Please. We need to know how bad it is,” I said.

He pulled a flat head screwdriver from his tool belt and removed the face plate from the kitchen light switch. The light switch sprang out like a jack-in-the-box.

“This looks worse than Spaghetti Junction, ever been there?” he asked.

We both shook our heads.

“I grew up outside Atlanta, it’s two freeways and a bunch of roads that all come together, your wiring looks worse.”

“What do you recommend?” I asked.

“Here’s what all y’all want to consider. You need to replace the electrical panel, it doesn’t even have a main, plus there aren’t enough open branches in the current box to pick up all the wiring I need to sort out.  If I was you, I’d considered doing this in stages. Rewire part of the house then budget to have the other half rewired. Otherwise, I’ll be living here ‘til Christmas.”

“Speaking of Christmas, we like to put up a Christmas display every year, would it be possible to add outdoor outlets?” I asked.

“Sure can, it’s real easy. We do it all the time,” he said.

“Sold,” said Richard clapping him on the back and shaking his hand.

“It’ll take a few weeks to get the permits and parts. I’ll give you a call when we’re ready to start work,” he said.

Six weeks later, the partial rewiring complete, the City’s electrical inspector stopped by.

“Everything looks good. Be sure to keep the permit posted someplace where we can find it when you have the rest of the work done.  You also need to make sure you have at least three feet of clearance around this panel to avoid possible electrical fires.”

We celebrated and used the microwave with all of the lights on in the house.

Two weeks later the temperature dipped and stayed in the 20-degree range for almost a full week.

Fannie, do you smell that?” asked Richard as he walked down the hallway to the kitchen.

“You know it smells like ozone and burnt hair,” I said, wrinkling my nose.

“Look at the smoke detector, is that smoke around it?”

“Oh my god, it scorched the paint.”

A dark-brown ring formed around the smoke detector.

“Do you hear something, like water running?” asked Richard.

“I’ve got the dishwasher and the washing machine, going. Why?”

“Look down,” said Richard pointing at my feet.

Water poured in rivulets from the kitchen and the laundry room. Steam rose from the carpet as it raced by our shoes into the family room forming a tropical indoor water feature.

“What the hell?” I said, lunging for the dishwasher trying to stop the flow of water.

“Forget the dishwasher, you need to get the water to the house cut off. Fannie, you grab the water key and get outside. Turn it off as quick as you can.”

“What are you going to do?” I asked slipping and sloshing my way toward the garage.

“Turn off the electrical before the house catches on fire,” said Richard.

The coup de grace came from the gas furnace. Taking the correct voltage for the first time in years the motor shorted out just before Richard reached the electrical panel. A small tendril of black smoke escaped from the furnace like a sigh of relief.

I called our Insurance Agent.

“Oh my, Mrs. Cranium, that sounds bad, we will get an adjustor out to your place in the couple of weeks.  There are a lot of broken pipes this time of year you know. The adjustor will be able to help with the water damage, but I’m afraid you’re on your own with the furnace, that’s a maintenance issue and isn’t covered.”

Try living without heat for an extended period of time.

We borrowed a friend’s mantra “fifty-five—stay alive”.

When we climbed into bed that night, we could see our breath.

“Richard, I’m getting my ski hat, do you want yours?” I asked, looking at him. His bright red cheeks and pink nose plus the look on his face spoke volumes.

What brought the whole thing home, a line from a Christmas poem, “…ma in her kerchief and I in my cap had just nestled down for a long winter’s nap…”.

During the day, two small radiant heaters moved with us from room to room along with two orange furry heat magnets.

On the bright side, our gas and electric bills migrated to less than $10 a month each, a blessing in disguise.

Three months crawled by before the insurance adjuster came to the house to view the damage.

He took pity on us because we lacked heat, part of the lights remained turned off since they shared the same circuit as the furnace and our house smelled of mold.

The insurance company cut us a check three days later.

It’s All Good Electrical, returned to help us get the rest of the house wiring sorted out.

Replacing the washer, dryer and dishwasher meant a furnace just wasn’t in the budget, but we could afford the replacement motor.

Heat, glorious heat.

Additionally, our electrician added 60 amps of pure power so we could operate our outdoor Christmas decorations without powering down half the house.

A glossy, new manual transfer switch adorned one wall of the garage operating the outdoor outlets. When the circuit closes, a loud “chung” vibrates through the air as the contacts connect and the hair on our arms stand up.

Feel the power.

About Fannie Cranium

Writing since she could first hold a pen, Tracy Perkins formed her alter ego, "Fannie Cranium" at the suggestion of her husband. Tracy understands smiling makes people wonder what she’s been up to.
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