Fill 'er up

…a Monday morning visit from the oilman to make sure your house keeps warm.

One of my favorite sounds on a cold winter’s day is the healthy hum of the furnace downstairs. Ever since I moved to New Hampshire and encountered the largely Northeastern phenomenon of oil heat, I’ve had a niggling worry about the tank running dry. Most oil companies do their best to keep tanks topped; most, in fact, have a curious habit of rushing out to fill everyone’s tanks the day after the news mentions a spike in fuel oil prices. And in the dire circumstance that your tank actually runs dry (as can happen if you opt out of the oil company’s automatic top-off plan), most oil companies are on-call 24 hours a day for such emergencies (with, of course, a hefty charge for folks who take advantage of this service.)

One of the lessons I learned the hard way my first winter in New Hampshire, back when my ex-husband and I owned a home and thus paid our own oil bill, was always to keep the path to the oil tank’s outside spigot cleanly shoveled. In that house my ex and I used to own, the oil spigot was on the far side of the house, around a corner from the front door only visitors used. In the winter, we’d sometimes not shovel a path to the front door…and I never thought to shovel a path to the oil spigot. That winter, of course, featured a record snowfall, so one day after the oil truck had tried (unsuccessfully) to climb our long, winding, ice-covered driveway, we got a call from the oil company explaining two things to our Fresh-from-the-Flatlands selves:

1. You have to keep your driveway sanded for the oil truck.
2. You have to dig a path to your oil tank.

Digging out

At left is an old photo of me standing in the trench we dug through several feet of snow (!!!) to reach the oil spigot…and every winter thereafter, I made it a point to keep the path to the oil tank pristinely clear. As the saying (sort of) goes, “Once frozen, twice shy.”

Now that I live in one rented half of a house in the heart of Keene, I don’t (thankfully) pay my own fuel bill…but I do make sure to keep the path to the oil spigot clear. The house I live in doesn’t have a long winding driveway, so the oil truck simply parks in the street…and the sidewalk to the oil spigot is the path I take to my car, so there’s several reasons to keep it clear.

All this talk of icy driveways, buried oil spigots, and several-feet-deep snow trenches raises an obvious question, one my eldest sister posed after I’d sent her pictures of my snow-buried car: “Why do you live there?” This morning as the oilman was topping my tank, I was chiseling out my ice-encased windshield wipers. (Yesterday Kathleen shared her tale of frozen doorlocks, a fate I barely missed by making sure to open and thoroughly warm my car before last night’s deep freeze.)

“A little bit cold today?” Mr. Oilman quipped.

“Uh, yeah,” I answered, still chiseling.

“We’ll survive it somehow,” Mr. Oilman mused, it being far too early on a cold Monday morning to seem so cheerful.

“It’s what we do,” I replied, clambering through shin-deep snow to start chiseling the wipers on the passenger side.

“After all,” Mr. Oilman continued. “It’s already January.”

“Which means spring is right around the corner, in three more months,” I replied, chuckling.

Freed windshield wipers

Surviving winter is what we do here in New England. Although I wasn’t born here, I’ve lived here long enough to have learned that you learn how to survive weather that would make other folks pack their bags. You learn the hard way to keep the path to your oil spigot shoveled, to keep more than a half tank of gas in the car to keep your fuel-line from freezing, and to warm your car early and long in the morning if you want to drive anywhere in the afternoon. The reason why we live here is because New England is pretty most of the time…and when the weather turns ugly, there’s nothing prettier than the sight of Mr. Oilman pulling up in front of your house ready to top your tank or the sight of two newly liberated windshield wipers standing at attention, UNfrozen in the morning sun.

Next time they predict an overnight deep-freeze, I’ll do what I’ve seen others do: I’ll leave my wipers standing at attention overnight…and I’ll make sure my ice scraper is in the house so I won’t have to chisel into a frozen car to get it. Happiness is learning the hard way–but learning–how to survive winters that would send a Flatlander fleeing.