Many years ago, when I was young and my children were younger, my husband left. I continued to go to school, certain it was the only thing keeping me from the nightmares of my youth. I had two kids, I entered two Master’s programs, and I worked two jobs (two part time jobs) fitting them in between the small spaces of my life.
One of those many years, I supported us on a total of twenty thousand dollars. I worried a lot. About bills. About the future. About my kids.
In my youth, with five children and two adults split between a three bedroom apartment, my mother had to occasionally pawn things in order to buy milk and cereal. My father nearly always had his thumb on the heat. I’m literally talking about the thermostat. The gas bills of an Ohio winter could wipe out whole paychecks.
There were stories of people freezing to death during those cold winters. That was before they passed the law that the Gas Company couldn’t cut people off for non-payment during freezing winter storms.
I woke up some mornings, my breath condensing before my eyes. My hamster went into hibernation. My father bought us sleeping bags, a cheaper alternative to turning up the heat.
Maybe that alone is what brought me to California (not really.) But there’s an incontrovertible trauma to spending your life shivering. And there’s an indisputable pleasure to being warm.
In the chilled California winters where it rarely drops below 32 degrees, I refused to deny my daughters heat. In the meager college years of single motherhood, I could not begrudge them food or space or gifts.
But I did cringe when the pink lined bill of the Southern California Gas Company came or the blue hem of the Water and Power warnings peeked over the rim of the mail box.
The one thing my father taught me was how to work hard and harder. I got through the tenuous times by believing hard work would pay off and we would, one day, be safe.
Fast forward to the Pandemic Years: I put my thumb on the heat tonight, having spent the day chilled, and nearly turned it down. Here in So Cal we don’t have the Ohio winters nor do we have the heating bills that could hinder a trip to the market for food. But every little bit will count – again.