George Marshall’s article: Back to the Future: When Less Was More is set in England, yet contains remarkable parallels with the way I grew up and continue to live today.
I fondly remember growing up in a large two-story house in Broken Bow, Nebraska, where life centered around the Beast in the dining room, a large metal grate covering the huge gas furnace in the basement, that was originally coal-fired, then converted to natural gas. I ranged my toy cowboys, horses and Indians in what had been the coal bin in the basement, now converted with paint and carpeting into a cozy play room by the furnace.
There was no heat forced into the other rooms of the house. The upstairs bedrooms, including the one sheltering the bunk bed my brother and I shared, were heated by small metal grates set into the floor that let the heat from the Beast waft naturally upward into our room. Many winter nights my brother and I lay on the wood floor with our ears glued to the grate, listening to our parents and Grandparents talk about mysterious adult subjects in the room below, while the wind piled the snow in deep drifts outside. When Mom heard our giggles and yelled up at us through the grate to go to bed, our flannel sheets were always icy cold, and we curled up in fetal positions to keep our toes warm. No TeeVees or other electronic appliances in our rooms. The height of my audio-visual experience was my Boy Scout flashlight under the covers that allowed me to read Jim Kjelgaard’s Irish Red books until I fell asleep.
Better yet was to come in out of the cold and take off my wet wool clothes standing on the huge grate over the Beast, the very warmest place in the house. I can still feel the little metal squares pressing into my sock feet.
Somehow our family of four kids made it through each winter warm and healthy, despite the lack of central heating, 24 hour TeeVee (remember the test pattern?), and all manner of electronic distractions. We had time for thought, personal introspection, experimentation and a well developed sense of our Self.
My wife and I now live in an 800 square foot home with only a wood stove for heat in the winter and only cooling breezes through open windows for cooling in the summer. The wood stove creates a welcome island of warmth between living room and kitchen. We can’t walk by it without stepping over and holding out our hands to glowing fire within. It’s the warm, cozy center of our room.
The Central Heating Generation is coming into power on waves of electronic gym-crackery. I shudder to think what it will be like when the whole world is centrally heated.