Thank you for joining me for the summer redux series. I have been re-posting stories you may not have read, in the fashion of a summer re-run. We’ll get back to our regular posting schedule next week.
The original “Farewell to the Bubblator” story posted back in September 2011. It’s been embellished a little since then.
* * *
The summer’s heat faded from the shores of Gig Harbor, Washington. 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, staring at the furnace.
“Haven’t the foggiest,” he said, clearing cob webs from the pilot light housing.
“Can you see instructions anywhere?” I asked, running my fingers through my short brown hair.
“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, I said, “Richard, I found someone who can be here tomorrow morning.”
Erick, the contractor, in his well-worn blue service coveralls, stretched a little too tight around his middle, stood in front of our vintage furnace—his eyes wide. He blinked in rapid succession. He shook his head. His fingers traced the name plate.
“I’ve been working in this field for over 30 years now and I thought all these had been replaced years ago. Look at this date stamp. It was manufactured in 1977,” he said, rubbing his chin.
The Bubblator gurgled his agreement.
Erick jumped backwards. The wall stopped him.
“What the . . . ,” he said.
“That’s our hot water heater. He talks,” I said, smiling. “Bubblator meet Erick. Erick this is the Bubblator.”
“You have got to be kidding me,” Erick said, rubbing the elbow. “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, my hands on my hips.
Erick eyed the Bubblator. “That thing’s a hazard and should be replaced,” he said, the tone of his voice like a scolding great aunt.
From any room in our house the sounds of the Bubblator and ol’ Betsy—working away in cheerful mechanical harmony, “bubble, bubble, chug, chug, whir” with an occasional rattle thrown in for good measure—kept us company. The Bubblator never leaked in his three-times normal life.
Very impressed with the craftsmanship and unintentional life span, I said, “Bubblator, you rock.”
“Blub, blub, blub.”
Erick took a step back.
“Come on,” I said, “according to my Uncle Carl that’s what he’s supposed to do. It’s our first gas powered hot water heater, I assumed he made those noises because of the higher water temperatures.”
Richard—expressing his doubts for a couple of years now—said, “You can lead a horse to water.”
Erick tore Ol’ Betsy apart. He cleaned her and re-lit the pilot light. The house exhaled as it came up to temperature.
Then he lowered the boom on us. “I’ll 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 disappeared like D.B. Cooper. We still didn’t know how to relight her.
“Richard have you seen the cats?” I asked, walking into the living room. “I can’t find them.”
“Check the bedroom,” he said, wrapped in his grandmother’s patchwork quilt. He sipped his coffee while tendrils of steam caressed his face. “I turned on the electric blanket for them.”
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. What’s heat to descendants of pioneering stock? What’s heat to native Pacific North Westerners? 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?”
Shivering, 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.
Armed with a butane camping lighter, I practiced my pilot lighting skills every other day.
Two days later Erick faxed us the quote. And the grand total made a boing sound. Five minutes later he faxed over the rebate and tax credit information raising the quote 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 drop.
We hired Erick.
Two weeks later his installers arrived with our much-anticipated equipment.
Richard put his arm around my shoulder when I photographed the Bubblator and ol’ Betsy for the scrap book. He handed me his handkerchief.
They disconnected the Bubblator first. The house fell silent. Its voice lost.
“Richard, how am I going to tell Uncle Carl?” I asked, my voice squeaking into a hiccup.
Four hours later, volcanic-steam-vent-like water ran from the taps.
Ol’ Betsy emitted her last rattle, clank, and whir. A final farewell before the younger model replaced her. By the end of the first day, the house felt cozy like an Irish hand-knit sweater.
Day two: Heat pump installation. A two-stage heat pump, this bad boy dwarfed me. Richard took a picture with me posing like Vanna White.
The job supervisor kept repeating, “I’m so sorry it’ll be so noisy.”
He spent little time in the company of the Bubblator.
A technician charged the heat pump with refrigerant. He walked over to the circuit breaker panel. With his pointing finger, he energized it. The compressor roared to life with the ferocity of a sleeping field mouse.
We waited for the tell-tale sounds. Something to lessen the void. It hummed along in near silence.
After a few hours, the smell of recycled dust disappeared, along with the parched hints of Death Valley. The living room invited warmth, no longer ice cold as though inhabited by the spirits of my dead relatives.
The sinus headaches stayed for two days as we acclimatized. After that we didn’t 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.