The summer’s heat faded. The crisp air and yellowing of the leaves meant one thing, time to fire-up ol’ Betsy.
Her pilot light disappeared after several months of slumber.
“Richard, do you know how this thing works?” I asked.
“Haven’t the foggiest,” he said clearing cob webs from the pilot light housing.
“Can you see instructions anywhere?”
“Hand me that flash light,” he said. Pointing the beam inside the housing revealed a spider commune and remnants of past feasts.
“Nope, no instructions. Do you want to wing it?” he asked, winking.
“Yeah right, I’ll start calling contractors and see if anyone is available to help us,” I said.
The Bubblator located next to ol’ Betsy, burbled his agreement with a hardy, “blub, blub, blub.”
Fifteen phone calls later, “Richard, I found someone who can be here tomorrow morning and relight the furnace.”
The contractor marveled seeing our vintage furnace. He said, “I’ve been working in this field for 30 years now and I thought all these had been replaced years ago. Look at this date stamp, it was manufactured in 1977.”
The Bubblator gurgled his agreement.
The contractor jumped backwards.
“What the…” he said as he hit the wall.
“That’s our hot water heater. He talks,” I said. “Bubblator meet Erick, Erick this is the Bubblator.”
“You have got to be kidding me. Hot water heaters are only designed for 10-years of life. This thing has got to be over 30-years-old and it shouldn’t talk.”
Two loud glubs exploded within the Bubblator.
“See, what did I tell you,” I said.
Erick eyed it with suspicion. “That thing’s a hazard and should be replaced.”
From any room in our house the sounds of the Bubblator and ol’ Betsy could be heard working away in cheerful mechanical harmony, “Bubble, bubble, chug, chug, whir” with an occasional rattle thrown in for good measure. The water heater never leaked in its three-times normal life.
Very impressed with the craftsmanship and unintentional life span, I said, “Bubblator, you rock.”
“Blub, blub, blub.”
Erick raised one eyebrow.
“Come on, I thought that’s what it was supposed to do. It’s our first gas powered hot water heater, I assumed it made those noises because of the higher water temperatures,” I said.
Richard, expressing his doubts for a couple of years now, said, “You can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make it drink.”
Erick tore our furnace apart, cleaned it and then re-lit the pilot light. The house exhaled as it came up to temperature.
Then he lowered the boom on us, “I will be surprised if this furnace survives the winter”.
Not ready to fork out that kind of cash, we decided to wait.
Three days later the pilot light went out again. We still didn’t know how to relight the furnace.
I called Erick’s office.
“Could you give us a quote on a replacement furnace, hot water heater and a heat pump?” I asked.
Erick said, “I can come by in three days.”
I neglected to mention the pilot light issue. Come on, we are descended from pioneering stock. We could tough it out. We had done it before. What’s three days without heat?
When he arrived he asked, “Fannie, why are you wearing a coat indoors? Did the pilot light go out again?”
I said, “I need a lesson in pilot lighting.”
Ol’ Betsy knew something was going on, because her motor would not turn off when we tried to relight her. Erick tore her apart again to get to the reset switch.
I then practiced my pilot lighting skills every other day.
Two days later Erick faxed us the quote and the grand total made a boing sound. Then he faxed over the rebate and tax credit information raising it to the much more comfortable ouch level.
Sticker shock is a terrible thing.
We asked two other contractors for quotes. The boing sound we heard from Erick’s quote turned into the ping of a pin dropping.
We hired Erick.
Two weeks later his installers arrived with our much-anticipated equipment.
Photographing the Bubblator and ol’ Betsy for the scrap book, a tear ran down my cheek.
They disconnected the Bubblator first. The house fell silent loosing its voice.
Four hours later piping hot water ran from the taps.
The furnace emitted its last rattle, clank and whir, a final farewell before the younger model replaced it. By the end of the first day, heat filled every room in the house.
Day two saw the installation of the heat pump. A two-stage heat pump, this bad boy dwarfed me.
The job supervisor kept repeating, “I am so sorry it’ll be so noisy.”
Obviously, he spent little time in the company of the Bubblator.
They charged the heat pump with refrigerant and energized it.
We waited for the tell tale sounds they apologized for.
It hummed along working in near silence.
After a few hours, we noticed subtle changes inside the house. The air smelled different. We felt humidity. The house temperature balanced. The living room, no longer ice cold as though inhabited by the spirits of my dead relatives. We are the third generation to inhabit this home.
The sinus headaches stayed for two days as we acclimatized to the changes in the house. After that we slept the sleep of the dead. We did not even wake up in the middle of the night to pee.
Yet the silence felt strange with no Bubblator to keep us company.
Farewell Bubblator, we miss you.