Under the Covers

My love of sleeping in a cold bedroom comes from growing up in old farmhouses with primitive heating systems. There was no furnace in the first house I lived in.   A coal stove standing in the living room heated the entire house; in theory, that is.   The upstairs which was shut off by the “stair door”  received no heat.  The downstairs living room was always hot and the remaining rooms were chilly; even the kitchen where there was some heat from the cookstove. Pipes often froze and windows were often covered with a thin glaze of ice.

When I was a toddler and my brother a few years older, we slept upstairs in the same room in twin beds.  In the winter, mom would dress us in footed pajamas and pile on the blankets and comforters.  I am not so old that we took “heated bricks” to bed with us, but we did use hot water bottles.   They cooled off quickly and in the middle of the night you might find yourself cuddling up to cold piece of rubber filled with cool water.  One option was to kick it out from under the covers to the floor, but if you did that you let some of the really cold air into your little cocoon.   Most often,  you just kicked it to the bottom of the bed and went back to sleep.

hot water bottle

When we moved into our next house, we had a coal furnace in the basement which was quite an improvement.  It was labor intensive, though, and  involved someone (usually my dad) making frequent trips to the basement to add more coal and stoke the fire to keep it going.  Inevitably, the fire went out during the night so waking up to a cold house was not unusual.   Coal was not  a clean way to heat your house.   When the coal truck came to deliver, it was dumped down a small chute into a pile next to the furnace.   The result:  coal dust.  No wonder my mom was always cleaning.  It was a dusty and dirty way to heat, but it was warmth.

My brother and I  still slept upstairs (although now we had our own rooms).  The newer house had floor registers upstairs where the heat from downstairs could rise and flow through, but this wasn’t very efficient and most of the time Mom had us keep them closed off so the downstairs would stay warmer.  When we got older, we both had electric blankets.

My brother moved out when he joined the Army, and I went off the college.   We were not there to witness the death of the coal furnace,   Mom called me at school telling me not to come home for the weekend because the furnace had exploded sending coal dust everywhere.  It was more than a mess.   A new propane furnace was installed.  Despite being much cleaner and eliminating trips to the basement to keep the fires burning, Mom and Dad still liked the feel of coal heat.  Our new propane furnace alternated blowing hot and cool air.  My parents never got used to that.   Dad even installed an add-on wood burner that he used during the coldest part of winter to burn wood and keep the house warmer.

This morning, I woke up to a cold bedroom once again.   I had left the windows open all night and the temperatures dipped to the mid 50’s.  I snuggled under the covers for a while remembering the feel of the old hot water bottle against my feet, but thankful that heat was just a few steps and a push button away.

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About Life in the 50's and beyond...

Welcome to Life in the 50's and 60's and beyond .... where I write about my childhood memories, music of the 60's and about life in the country. I am a mother, grandmother, farmer's wife, business owner, and retired teacher.
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18 Responses to Under the Covers

  1. Ah yes this brings back memories of growing up in an rambling old farmhouse in the 1960’s
    I was just old enough to remember when we moved in in March of 1963 that there were 3 wood stoves strategically located throughout the house to keep it warm enough. It seemed a never ending task to feed the fires. The first 2 years we didn’t even have indoor plumbing – so night time “potty” needs were taken care of in what we called the “honey pot”. It certainly wasn’t very sweet!
    Even after my dad upgraded to an oil furnace the upstairs bedrooms were always cold since there was only a heating duct into the common room. Sleeping with the door closed would lead to a chilly morning – I remember waking up some morning to see my breath rising into the room because the door had drifted closed (or maybe my brother’s had closed it for me!)

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  2. Mustang.Koji says:

    Such a lovely story once again of days of old… or is it “olde”, Lol. That rubber water bottle… That was a improved version! Mine had a chrome-like clip at its neck… Never, ever undo that clip. 🙂

    Warmth is always a worry in colder climates… When I lived in Japan in an all male dorm, we had no heater. And when we would have to go out into the automotive service bays, we carried a stainless steel mini heater. Believe or not, you poured a bit of kerosene onto some kind of wick, lit it, then covered it back up. It would just slowly smolder under your white “haramaki”.

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  3. You so reminded me of the oil furnace grate that was the only way the heat vented into our home when I was a child.
    . It also would lose the pilot light at night quite often, waking to a cold house. I recall many times straddling that grate to feel the warmth while dressing for school in the morning.
    We were not coal burners in Oregon, instead we supplemented with wood always You know, the firs and evergreens of the great Pacific Northwest. I still prefer wood heat over any other resource, love the way it warms the skin. Its just too bad it is not easily renewed.

    Great post for your blog Ruth, so apt.

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  4. Thanks for the smile. When spending winter vacations at my grandparents’ farm, they had the furnace in the basement with the floor registers upstairs. The only heat you received was what rose up, and it wasn’t a lot. I remember sleeping under so many quilts and blankets that they were so heavy I couldn’t turn in bed. You got in, stayed in one position, and hoped to not have to move during the night. LOL

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  5. maesprose says:

    The furnace exploding! I don’t even want to imagine the mess that would have been.

    I like it cold too!

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    • By the time I arrived home, a couple of weeks later, my mom had worked her cleaning magic on the house although there were traces. I cannot imagine dealing with it, because she had to clean all of the clothes in all of the closets, the drapes, the windows, the furniture, and she was working full time outside of the home. I should have gone home and helped her.

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  6. wanderingseniors says:

    I didn’t sleep with a hot water bottle, but I, too, wore footed pajamas and slept under quilts and wool Navy blankets when we lived in Connecticut. Other places we lived never got that cold. I still sleep best with blankets and/or comforters with the room as cold as possible. Hubby doesn’t do cold very well, so I can’t have it as cold as I’d like, Good memories.

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  7. LB says:

    We definitely tend to romanticize life without the luxuries of today, but the reality is that it was COLD! I, like you, would rather sleep in a cold room under covers … but not as cold as what you knew growing up.
    I have quite a few friends who heat with wood stoves, which provides excess heat in the main room, and colder rooms elsewhere. I imagine it was hard for your folks to adjust.
    I can not imagine the mess after that furnace exploded!!

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  8. Amy Elder says:

    Grandma Minnie had a huge pot-bellied stove downstairs and a wood-burning stove in the kitchen. They did a great job of heating the downstairs but very little heat made it through that hole into the bedroom.

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  9. Luanne says:

    My grandma had it better than you. They had the same problem in their farmhouse as your first house, but with four siblings (plus her) to share the same big bed, they were never cold!

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