Thursday, February 22, 2007

The Story of the Kerosene Heater

This is the story of the kerosene heater. It represents many things in our life that we feel the need to own.
When I was a child we lived in a huge house that had a coal furnace. The ceilings were high, the rooms were many. It was an old Victorian home. We needed to supplement the coal furnace at times in the dead of the cold New England winter.
We had a kerosene heater just like the one in the picture here. I loved that thing, watching the designs dance on the walls and ceiling. Of course it was a dangerous monster, sucking the air out of any space no doubt, but I loved when we used it. I would just lay on the floor watching the shapes flicker on the ceiling as the giant wick burned.
When Emery and I were newlyweds and got an apartment right near my parents, it was an old building and there down in the basement (cellar as we called it) there was an old kerosene heater just like the one I knew as a child. I coveted that old rusted thing, and wanted to find out who it belonged to and see if they would be willing to part with it. It did after all remind me of a very pleasant childhood memory. We never could find the owner so there it sat and there I was wishing it was mine.
I thought of that heater a few times through the years and felt bad that it wasn't mine. A couple years ago I checked eBay for one. There it was, on the screen before me, in perfect condition. Had an old wick in it still. I was shocked to see it didn't have a million bids on it. I bid and held my breath. Sure enough it was mine. $40 with shipping.... a steal in my mind. I almost felt like it would change my life owning this piece of my childhood. I was thrilled when it came. Found a place of honor to display it. Looked at it several times a day for at least a week. Then I needed that corner where it was, to put something else. I moved the heater to another place, admired it, remembered those diamond shapes on the wall when I was a child and then went on with the business at hand.
One time I put a small light inside of it to see the patterns show up in the darkened room. It was fun, but not magic.
So here it is, two years later, the heater has been moved to so many spots and now it feels like an albatross around my neck as I try to find someplace to put it. The memories were wonderful, but owning this same heater did not change my life in the way I assumed it would.
You see, so many things we buy, we buy with the notion it will make our life happier, or give us never ending joy, when really it won't. Things don't do that for us. I suspect everyone reading this blog can think of one of more items that can be substituted in the spots where I wrote kerosene heater.
Most "things" don't give us lasting, never ending happiness. Some things like my camera bring me joy over and over, by capturing moments of beauty and emotion. Its a "thing" that keeps on giving. But then there is the "stuff" of life that just ends up getting moved from place to place. You find it didn't give you all the pleasure you thought it would.
A lesson, choose your things wisely and understand that true joy, true pleasure is not gained by acquiring "pretties" and nothing can replace the joy of a good memory. Hope I learned a lesson from this small, old heater.


Mama Koch said...

I have this same heater. It belonged to my Mom and she used it in her sewing room when she didn't want to light the "big" heater.

Maybe it's the fact that it's not the 'actual' one you grew up with. My kids (Mom's Grands) even remember the one I have and it's going to have a special place in my new home! I can smell burnt kerosene!

ps--if you have time, go visit my latest blog entry. I thought about you expecting two new babies. I made an embroidered quilt you might like.

Jacran Cottage said...

I have vague memories of a similar heater when I was child! I can understand your need to own it. There have been things that I've wanted to buy, things that have made my heart skip a beat when I saw them, but that would end up being the albatross you speak of. Why in the world would I buy an old table top radio just because it is the same as the one we had when I was young, that reminds me of the time I spent listening to Radio Luxembourg! My house is crowded enough already!! So far I've been able to resist these impulses, but it's been a real struggle!


Gina said...

Oh this is very true about things. However, I think that we can still enjoy some "pretties" in life without loosing the understanding this little heater exemplifies.

For some reason, I thought of you when I heard this on NPR yesterday:

Patty said...

yes, Gina I agree with you and should have said that some pretties do make our life richer, but still are not the source of true joy. I have lots of "pretties" that have given me pleasure for years. The kind that make you smile when you even dust them !

neighbor said...

I'm glad you mentioned your "okay-ness" with a few pretties. We went through a prolonged period of scrimping (gee, maybe we're still in it) and when we needed to move cross-country couldn't really afford to ship everything so we pared down dramatically. I regret that what we pared were the "frivolities," the pretty things that we didn't absolutely need and couldn't justify an additional expense.

But it turned out that their use lay in making our home feel loved and cared for. We lived in starkness for a while after that and it was pretty disheartening.

But, like you, I'm not inclined to collect for collecting's sake, and I do tend to evaluate our possessions pretty often. I just have learned to balance my evaluation with the knowledge that it's ok to retain what is beautiful.


A New Year

It is a silent sort of morning, sitting next to the wood stove in my rocker, watching the birds outside my windo...