It's the Little Things
(I haven’t been posting much lately because of my job with the CPAs. Now that tax season is past, I hope to get caught up on the entries I’ve been imagining over the last few weeks....)
It’s never a good idea to speak too loudly about one’s good fortune, because it’s bound to come back and bite you. This time, I made the mistake of commenting (to my mother) that despite the windy weather, the pilot light in the furnace had not blown out. For good measure, I added, “which is a really good thing, because it was Lisa who knew how to relight it.” Such a remark is asking for trouble.
Three nights later, on a Saturday evening, I noticed that the house was a little colder than usual. Since the house gets cold right before the heat comes on, I waited. Nothing happened. I went to the thermostat and pushed the lever until I heard the “click.” I waited some more, and nothing happened. By now, I pretty much knew what was going on, but nonetheless I went into the bedroom and checked the thermometer there, just in case I was hallucinating the chill. The temperature was 59F.
The pilot light was out.
For a few vain minutes, I wondered if I could wait until Monday and call the repairman to show me how to do it, but if it was already 59, and tempereatures were expected to be in the low 30s overnight (again, Fahrenheit), that probably wasn’t a good idea. I thought about calling the repair guy right then and there, but it was Saturday night, and that meant serious overtime — again, not a good idea. Besides, Lisa always swore the pilot light was actually easy to relight... once you’d done it.
And that was the catch. I hadn’t actually done it myself, though we’d talked about it a few times, and I knew that (1) there were instructions on the inside of the furnace door and (2) you hold the red button down for at least 60 seconds. I’d never seen the red button, mind you, but I knew it had to be held down firmly and for a full minute. Armed with this knowledge, I headed downstairs to the basement.
I should add that this isn’t a finished basement. It’s more of a cellar, really, with a concrete floor and fieldstone walls and a habit of flooding when the storm drains get too full. (But that’s another story.) The washer and dryer live down here, which has more to do with lack of space upstairs than the intrinsic habitability of the basement, and it should tell you something that this is where I had the plumbers put the cheap new sink I intend to use for dying fabric. Oh, yes, and the cats’ boxes are down here, too, along with lots of gardening supplies and Christmas ornaments and miscellaneous tools and scrap lumber and other junk.
So you can imagine how much fun it was to come downstairs and discover that the best way to gain access to the furnace was to sit on the floor. But I had found a flashlight, and there was an obvious handle, so I successfully removed the furnace cover and turned it over to read the instructions.
Steps 1 and 2 (turn down the heat and remove the cover) were already done. Step 3 was “Follow the gas line to find the pilot light. Remove cover if present.” I found the gas line — it was right next to a knob that said “pilot” and “on,” and next to that was the mysterious red button — but the gas line went back into the depths of the furnace, between the burners and behind a rusty piece of solid metal. After some fumbling with the flashlight and a pair of kitchen tongs (to hold the matches), I realized this was the cover (to be removed if present), and finally figured out that the spring-thing sticking out from it was in fact the handle by which it could be removed.
And, voila! The pilot light! Stone cold dead, but definitely the pilot light. At this point, I think I would have been happier if it had been on, so that I could have called the repairman with a clear conscience.
The next step seemed simple: turn the knob to “pilot,” hold down the red button, and immediately light the pilot light. I patted myself on the back for knowing that you had to hold the button down for a full minute to keep the pilot lit, and then took a deep breath and did as I was told.
I did it again.
Still nothing. So I did it a few more times, all without result.
Then I lay down on the floor and peered into the furnace (using the flashlight) to make sure that this was in fact the pilot. There was nothing else that could be a pilot light, and it matched the little picture on the inside of the furnace door. So I turned the knob to “pilot,” held down the red button, and lit yet another match.
And nothing happened.
By now, I was accumulating quite a pile of spent matches, and the cellar was definitely getting cold. I was beginning to wonder just how cold it might get by Monday, and exactly how much the repair guy would charge me for a Saturday night call, anyway. And then I looked at the knob again. I was turning it to “pilot,” all right, but only to the “t.” Maybe, just maybe, you had to turn it further. So I lit another match, grasped it firmly in the kitchen tongs, and turned the knob past “t” to “p.” There was a definite, gratifying hiss. I mashed the red button down, stuck the match into the pilot light — and it lit! Of course, I was in an incredibly awkward position to keep holding the red button (I hadn’t really expected it to work), but I held it down while I counted to sixty, and then let go.
The pilot stayed lit. I sat for a moment, smiling at that pretty little flame, and then realized I had to put it all back together again. But, you know, Lisa was right. Once you’ve done it, it’s not that bad.