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.
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.