What Islanders Want for Christmas
Our summer visitor friends rhapsodize about island life, about peace and quiet, and about self-sufficiency as if it were their latest hobby. Many good folks have lake camps up long narrow roads, and dream of the day when they might decide to quit the grind and see the whole year through watching the loons. Others relish the small-town lifestyle, with church suppers and men working together to find a community Christmas tree, school plays, Ladies Aid societies, and rarely a stranger in sight. Some search for a back-country ideal, and view our almost-Alaskan, weather-dependant, heavy-lifting sort of existence with its little-boy love for boats, planes, and off-road vehicles as having an undeniable charm.
Should you follow the dream and find yourself far from what feels like civilization as the temperature dips toward zero, as the wind screeches through the wires, as the neighbors disappear one by one until spring, it serves one well to be properly equipped.
If you are giving some slight consideration to what you might ask of Saint Nicholas, should you find yourself upon his knee this month, and should you reside in some rural area, even if a hamlet not quite so isolated as mine, allow me to offer a couple of suggestions (based on this winter so far).
You might ask for a telephone. Not an electronic phone, not a cordless phone, not a fax machine phone, nothing that can multitask at all, nothing that comes free when you open a checking account or costs less than you spent on your sandwich yesterday. You want an old-fashioned hard-wired phone that will work without any base station unit or charger being plugged into the wall. This is especially true if you live out in the boonies where cell phone signal is marginal, because constant searching for signal will tap out your battery fairly quickly, as you know, and then, of course, there is no recharging without electricity.
An ordinary, low-tech phone will work when the power is out. You might wish to contact the power company in such an instance. You might desire to call your neighbors and see if it’s everybody that’s out, or just you, and by the way would they like to get together beside the woodstove for a few rounds of cribbage by candlelight in the duration? You might need to use the phone with some urgency, should the power failure dump your heat and threaten your pipes with freezing, or if the storm has brought a tree down on top of your car, or you need to tell them at work that you’re not coming in. Maybe you’re a brain surgeon. Heck, maybe you’re the lineman. Possibilities abound.
A truly old-fashioned telephone, one containing enough metal to actually hurt somebody should one drop it on one’s toe, is a bit hard to find these days but we need not all be sticklers for authenticity. Get a phone installed that works on its own power like they always used to. It’s not “retro,” it’s smart.
Once you’ve got your list started, and you’ve put down about how you want a backrub and a babysitter, a new chain saw and that cribbage board (and those candles) we were talking about, a ten-point buck and for the ice cream place to stop closing for the winter, you might also ask Santa for a barrel or two of kerosene. If it is the case that you heat with #2 heating oil, and you happen to have an outdoor tank, it is not only water in the fuel that will spoil your cozy atmosphere. The “oil” we mean when we talk about heating oil is basically diesel fuel, which turns to waxy goop when the temperature hits the single numbers. It will gel in the filter, it won’t flow, your furnace will stop, and either you won’t know why or you’ll say “@#$%^, the first cold day of winter again!” If you call the local handyman to come to the rescue with a new fuel filter and a torch, he may wonder why you didn’t remember going through the same machinations last year. He may even use some colorful expressions, but only once off the phone with you, polite handyman that he invariably is.
“Oh no,” you say, “My fuel dealer brings me the winter mix. It’ll be fine.” Well then, bully for you. Must be nice to have a fuel dealer.
By the way, don’t try thawing the oil lines with a torch until you remove the fire-o-matic valve hand wheel because it is a “fusible link oil-piping shutoff valve,” intended to stop the flow of fuel in case of fire, and it will do the same in case of carelessly-aimed torch. Don’t drop it in the snow and lose it. Maybe you’ll get an extra one of those little fellows in your stocking (failing that, from Redlon and Johnson’s).
For that matter, I don’t recommend you even go near a torch.
If none of this makes any sense to you, that’s OK. We’ll see you when you get back next summer.
Eva Murray realizes that most people have different problems, like perhaps that the dry cleaners have lost your favorite golf shirt, but doesn’t understand those issues at all.