On cold mornings the first thing we would do is turn the tap to release gas into our space heater. We’d open the compartment to the pipe that carried the gas, light a match and watch the heater slowly come to life. On low, blue flames would simmer, but on high you could see every color fire claimed.
With six bodies in a house trying to get warm, a front row spot was a hot commodity. Often, we’d run to get dressed for school, grab a bowl of cereal and a blanket and then race to sit by heat. It was ingrained in us to be careful with the heater and blankets, so the blankets covered our backs while our chests felt were continuously warmed.
My dad also taught us a nifty trick to do when the heater was crowded: turn on the oven and crack it open a little. Heat will rise and warm your bones.
Just like a campfire that keeps the gaze of the people around locked on its flames, the heater’s fire did the same. My brothers and I would stare into the flames waiting for the heat to become a little too oppressive before scooting back just a bit.
I’d lay belly down on the heater just because. It became another seat in house – one you couldn’t keep your legs in front of for too long. But we did.
When we wanted the heat faster than it was able to give, we’d stand mere inches from the front screen and wait until we felt the sting of our pants against our legs.
Then there were the nights that the heater wasn’t needed but someone would walk into the house, sniff, and ask, “Do I smell gas?”
No, they didn’t, but on rare occasions they did – caused by a stray leg walking by the gas tap.
It’s a little funny how I’ve grown so used to living a certain way that I wouldn’t be able to go back and be happy with just a space heater to keep me warm. And at the very same time, I wish for those things I never thought I’d miss.