ELBOW GREASE Andy Hollifield 1-8-17
The winter of 1977-78 is one that most people would think I would like to forget but actually it is one I like to think of often. Memories are not always pleasant events but are also tough times that shape character. Such was the case that winter. I am not telling this story for sympathy but so that everyone can see God’s provision even in the toughest of circumstances. I thought all day on Saturday about what to write today and to be honest I couldn’t get settled on anything. As I sat at my computer thinking of the snow and the cold we have right now, that winter 40 years ago came to mind. It actually brought a smile to my face for two reasons; one is because of all I learned that year and two; because I am hopeful that one will never be repeated in my life. I believe I have the year right and I am sure I have the circumstances right. They are engraved in the recesses of my mind and I doubt I could forget them if I wanted to.
My mom had recently had back surgery in early December I believe. I was eleven going on 12 in April and my brother turned 13 at the end of January. We lived in a two-story mill house that was heated with a Warm Morning oil heater. As I mentioned, mom had back surgery and that itself wasn’t like it is today. Back then there were no laser surgeries. It was cut open and sew back together. She had a slipped disc and I saw her a lot of times lay in the living room floor in front of the heater because the hard surface was the only way she could get relief for her back. Dad was in the bed I think for about a month with pleurisy. My brother and I learned that winter what being a man and taking responsibility was all about. January was snowy and cold. We only went to school four days the entire month. We had ice on our street and it was mostly impassable till late in the month or early February. Before I make us sound too pitiful, we had a lot of fun that winter too. One reason our road stayed so bad for so long might of had something to do with all of us neighborhood kids riding sleds and bicycles on the ice-covered street. We lived in Mayberry back then. Not really but Martel Village wasn’t far from it. We had everything just about that Mayberry had except a barbershop. It was a fun place to grow up. We actually played outside all we could summer and winter. The TV only picked up 3 or 4 channels and less when the weather was bad. We also had to take turns going out in the yard to turn the antenna. You younger folks can google that and read about them. At times we had rabbit ears with tin foil on the end of them. The only real technology we had was the handheld electronic football and baseball games that came out about that time. They were very crude by todays standards but we loved them. They would do ok when you couldn’t get up a real game with the kids in the neighborhood.
Since I have set the scene for you a little bit, I will get to the amazing parts of the story. As anyone that lived through that era knows, you cannot keep an oil barrel from sweating on the inside when temperatures change from hot to cold. Also as you know, when fuel oil gets real cold for an extended period of time, you cannot hardly keep it from gelling. With the oil line running under the house and coming up through the floor, when the temperatures got below about twenty you could expect problems. When the fuel gelled it wouldn’t flow and therefore the fire would go out. Back in those days, money wasn’t plentiful and you didn’t call a repairman for everything. When the line froze, mom would wake up me and my brother to go out and fix it. What that involved was taking our handheld propane torches and one going in the basement and one going out to the oil barrel. The one outside would warm the bottom of the tank near the line and thaw the line to the basement wall. The one in the basement, actually it was a crawl space, would thaw the line from the wall to where it went through the floor into the house. When that was done we went back inside and took the line filter off and cleaned the gel out of it and put it back together. We then turned the valve back on and relit the heater. In an old millhouse with ten foot ceilings and bad windows and little if any insulation, it didn’t take it long to get cold. When it got bitter cold, this process was repeated every 2-4 hours or whenever the oil gelled up again.
During part of this time, my aunt and grandma came and stayed with us to help take care of mom and dad and babysit us four kids. We hadn’t learned to cook very much by then but probably more than most kids our age. Our sisters were probably between 5 and 7 that winter. With dad as sick as he was and mom having had the surgery, it proved to be a rough winter. By the way, throughout that winter when we did have school, we went. There wasn’t any staying out because we had been up two or three times thawing out oil lines during the night. Also, school wasn’t called off back then due to cold or a snowy forecast. If it was, I sure don’t remember it but I do remember watching it snow an inch or two and wondering if they were ever going to let us out early. Maybe cold wasn’t as cold and snow and ice weren’t as slippery as it is now.
I’m not sure why I even wrote about all this. It may not mean anything to anyone but me and my family. But that winter, having to “man up” and take care of the family because there wasn’t anyone else able to, taught me a lot about life. My wife sometimes ask me; “How do you know how to do so much?” I just reply “By doing it.” We just did what we had to and didn’t think anything about it at the time. We figured it out as we went. Now as adults, when tough times hit we just adjust because that’s what we have to do. Feeling sorry for yourself doesn’t fix anything. I do think a lot about young people now and the seemingly helpless generation we are bringing up behind us. I know we have a lot of good kids but I have to chuckle when I read some of the stuff they whine about on Facebook. Especially the crowd that laid in the floor and pitched a temper tantrum after the election and plan to do it again on inauguration day. They want to complain about how devastated they are and how their rights are being violated. Wonder how they would react if their mom had woke them up at two in the morning and told them to get their torch and go out in seven degree weather and thaw out the oil lines? Wonder how they would feel if their parents made them actually wash dishes or wash and hang out the clothes? What if they got to spend part of their summer cutting kudzu with a swing blade? Wonder if they will have to google “swing blade” to find out what one is? Maybe they can google “elbow grease” while they’re at it. That was the number one thing that a young man had to use back then and he better have a good supply of it. Oh yeah, as long as I’m on a roll; an allowance! We got one at times but it was mostly at report card time and only if our grades were good. Most of the time, an allowance was what dad did when he “allowed” us to use the lawnmower he had bought and paid for to make a little money cutting other folks grass. Oh yeah, we better do a good job or he would send us back to do it again without pay and we didn’t get paid for cutting our own. That was the price of using his lawnmower and gas.
Oh for the good old days when young men were taught by men to be men and girls were taught by their moms and others to be young ladies at all times and how to take care of a family. Not meaning to sound like a chauvinist but they raised some real men and women back then. Church was the social center of most folks life and family time was a norm and not something scheduled one night a week. I could go on and on but truth be known; the good old days were pretty hard. As I change the 100 or so channels on my color TV using my remote and walk over and turn up the thermostat on my furnace, the here and now ain’t so bad. One thing hasn’t changed though, God always has been and always will be sufficient and then some. We never missed a meal and God has never let us down. He just continues to bless no matter what our circumstances might be. As I sit barefoot writing this post in my nice toasty house, I can’t help but be thankful I won’t be thawing oil lines tonight. I know hardships build character but I think I may have enough to get by on. I hope you have taken your own trip down memory lane while reading this. Stay warm and have a blessed day in the Lord!!!