Up until now the Winter weather has been fairly tepid. Today it was forty-seven degrees. No where near the temperatures we are used to experiencing during a New York January. Having said that, I must admit that I was feeling cold today. Despite that I was dressed in standard Winter attire, velvet pants, cozy sweater, socks and slippers, I had a chill. I was even revved up for the NFL Giants’ wild card game against the Falcons. That in itself should have kept me warm, but it didn’t. (Giants won bigtime. It was a slaughter.) Time to face the facts. I don’t care what the thermometer proclaims. When I’m cold, I’m cold.
Fortunately, I live in a one family home and am in control of the thermostat. Unless you have been subject to someone else controlling the heat in your house you have no idea what a luxury that is.
My mother told me stories of Winters in the sixth floor apartment on 116th Street. We were located on the top floor, with the tar roof over our heads, and drafty windows which allowed in bitter drafts. There were no such things as double plated glass, or even storm windows. We did not have shutters to help seal out the wind. It was four over four on each window. A single sheet of glass connected to the other by severely compromised ribs of wood.
Granted it wasn’t a cold water flat, (Before I was born some people lived in cold water flats, meaning, no heat or hot water.)* , but it may as well have been. The building was heated by steam heat radiators. Steam was made by coal fed fires in a furnace. Joe the Janitor would shovel this furnace all Winter night long in order to heat the twin buildings Each building housed twenty-four apartments. By the time the steam rose to warm the top floor radiators it had cooled. If you lived on the fifth or sixth floor you wore gloves, and sometimes coats inside your apartment, during the dead of the Winter.
I was told, my Mother would wrap me in several blankets, turn on the oven (no jokes please) and lay me on the oven door, in the middle of the night. Then she would sit there beside me until the rising sun would take a bit of the edge off the frigid air. This was only during the worse conditions.
In my youth, I never remember feeling cold. As I recall Winters were more severe. Snow storms were more common, and drifts so very deep. There were a few more days that the temperature would hit zero and the wind would howl through the building alley ways. Still I can’t remember it ever been too cold for me to go out and play. Reddened cheeks and running nose, were no deterrents.
Now its January, and I sit to watch TV only after I dress in layers, with a blanket close at hand, hot cocoa on the stove, turn up the heat, and light the fireplace. Afterall it has dropped down to forty degrees outside. It can’t be that I am getting older. It must be climate change.
*A cold water flat is an apartment that has no running hot water. In most developed countries, current building codes make cold water flats illegal, but they used to be common in cities such as Detroit and Chicago, through the mid-twentieth century.
Typically, cold water flats did not have built-in showers installed; tenants who wished to bathe would heat pots of water by stove and add the heated water to a bathtub. They also typically had no central heating. Tenants would keep warm by use of kerosene, electric space heaters, hot water bottles, or electric blankets.