Amblin' Alameda: Brrrr!

Amblin' Alameda: Brrrr!

Morton Chalfy

The house we live in, like many in Alameda, just turned 100 years old and looks like it’s good for another hundred. It’s a Craftsman built in 1912 that has wood floors throughout, lovely architectural details in the most surprising places (like the window seat/storage bins in the living room) and a brick fireplace, and it is generally easy on the upkeep.

Now that we are going through a serious cold snap (I thought it was global warming) the house is transporting us back in time to the days when it was first built. Back then any heating had to come from the fireplace and at best it would heat the two to three feet directly in front of it and no more. Today the fireplace is bricked up and a furnace in the crawl space is supposed to do the heating job. Which it does, sort of. These old houses were built without insulation (we’ve added some in the attic) and with wood sash, single pane windows. The furnace distributes the heat unevenly so the house is warmish in the front rooms and freezing in the back. We’ve made some adjustments.

Back in the early part of the twentieth century when these houses were state of the art it was normal to be fully clothed when inside the house and fully dressed, including cap, when going to bed. Firewood was a necessity and blankets would be available in every room. When the inside temperature is in the fifties, blankets make life bearable.

During these frigid days I walk around in house shoes, with two layers of clothing and the occasional blanket around my shoulder. Accoutered like this, I think about the inhabitants of Alameda in the nineteen teens and twenties and marvel at how soft we’ve all become. I grew up in New York City and lived in upstate New York for years so I know what frigid really is, but my blood is thinner now that I’ve acclimated to the Bay Area and frigid has become a relative term. I’m usually a barefooter but not when the floor is so cold. I find I can’t get much work done in the cold and since it takes hours to remove the chill from the house in the morning I try to plan my work for the afternoon.

This morning, chilly and shivering, we even hied ourselves off to the health club to exercise and get into the hot tub. Okay, I spent two-thirds of the time in the tub and only a little time exercising because it took fifteen minutes of hot water soaking to make my feet stop tingling and start to feel normal. But by the time we got back home the house had heated up from the average temperature of 1912 to what we consider normal a century later and right now I write in warm comfort.

It takes so little disruption to put us back into the colder, older days. I can just picture myself bundling up to go into the back yard for firewood and then roasting next to the flames and freezing six feet away. I can imagine reading by candlelight wrapped in a blanket, and probably being thankful to live in such a great house.

I’m still thankful for that, but like the earlier inhabitants I too am wishing for spring to hurry up and get here.