Home Maintenance

I’ve been putting off changing the furnace filter.

In home maintenance canon, that’s like skipping oil changes for your car. Not smart, but in my defense, the furnace is in the cellar, and the cellar is pretty much just a deep dark hole scooped from red dirt, full of shadowy edges and cobwebby corners and assorted mouse bones and other unpleasantness. It’s an old house. They didn’t do poured concrete basements in 1860.

Alas, cold weather has arrived, and with it the memories of the winter the furnace went out not once but repeatedly, until it was properly repaired by a proper repair person who schooled me in the importance of good furnace maintenance. I’m not saying the schooling was particularly effective, but this morning there were heavy grey skies outside and visions in my head of space heaters and thermal underwear and heavy socks and standing in front of the open oven door to get warm, and no, no, I can’t put if off any longer. The furnace depends on me.

It depends on me.

I wear rubber shoes to do the job. The cellar used to flood with some regularity, especially after a sustained rain, and it’s been raining here most of the past week, a persistent cold rain that will seep into your bones, not to mention your cellar, and draw off all warm thoughts of pumpkin spice and sugarplum fairies. Even though there hasn’t been any cellar flooding since I had the house’s gutters replaced 18 months ago, I long ago habituated to a puddled floor. Plus, I don’t like surprises, especially in places all dark and cobwebby. So: rubber shoes.

Surprise: the dirt floor is dry, but there is something over there next to the furnace, a suspicious dark mound that looks a lot like scat. Rather large scat, as a matter of fact, considerably more than what might be left by, say, your average Midwestern house-invading raccoon.

It is disconcerting.

I lean in to take a closer look.

Relief: it is not scat. It is a small dead creature, dark and furry and desiccated. A vole, perhaps, curled into a ball, rigid in death. I nudge it with the toe of my rubber shoe and it topples sideways. I can see its front feet now, the tiny finger-like digits, and a tail not quite furry but not bare like a mouse tail. Definitely a vole. I direct it with my shoe into a shadowy corner, behind a piece of rotting plank, next to a dirt-crusted cinder block, where it can continue to decompose in peace.

At the furnace I pull out the old, dusty filter and replace it with the sparkly clean new one. I carry the old filter upstairs and out the back door to the trash bin, where I fold it in half and stuff it down into the bin. On the way back inside I leave my rubber shoes on the porch.

Point of fact: the entire enterprise has taken about four minutes, including the time needed to inspect the mysterious mound and toe it aside. It’s taken longer to describe it to you, and far, far longer to consider doing it and deciding not to, again and again, for weeks on end.

Procrastination is irrational. I am irrational. Q.E.D.

That winter when the furnace wouldn’t work properly, the technician who came to repair the thing (properly) showed me a carpet of animal hair he’d extracted from it.

“Change the filter every month,” he said.

“Yes,” I said. “I will. Every month.”

But I don’t. Instead I buy three-month filters (“Doesn’t matter,” the tech said when I told him this. “You have cats. Change it every month.”) He told me to mark it on my calendar, so I do. I choose a date, make a notation: “Δff.” Then the date comes and goes and I don’t “Δff.”

I’m a little slow with the oil changes, too.

It’s a common failing, this habit of postponing the small stuff until it threatens to become bigger stuff. I don’t even know why I’m telling you, except that I felt so triumphant when I came back upstairs with that dirty furnace filter in hand, and triumphs have been so few these past several months that I wanted to share that feeling with you, embedded though it may be in something bigger, something about the cellar where I’d rather not go, and the small creatures who dwell there completely unbeknownst to me, who appear unexpectedly, creatures I can (sometimes) nudge back into the shadows with the toe of my shoe, in order that I might get on with my life.

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2 thoughts on “Home Maintenance

  1. You write so well, so intimately, with such self-awareness, I feel I know you. I feel as if, if we were to meet ‘in person’ some day, at your place or mine, we would hug like old friends who’ve been through a lot together do, and then we’d talk about things that were important, things we really care about, as if we’d known each other a lifetime. And we’d laugh a lot, because we’d just know exactly what each other was talking about, it would all be so familiar, and probably we’d cry together too, for the same reason. And we’d scheme and dream about how to achieve all the things we’ve been meaning to do for a lifetime, but never got around to — things to make the world better, or to make ourselves happier — knowing full well we won’t actually do them, but it’s nice to think about anyway, to imagine the possibilities, and the impossibilities not being impossible.

    I will think about you from now on, every time I change the furnace filter, which I do at irregular times but faithfully twice a year, somehow always having to buy a new one even though I’m sure I bought a three-pack last time, and having to remember the size to buy, which I’m sure I wrote down somewhere and put away knowing I’d forget (20x20x1, I think).

    Thank you for this, and for what you do.

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