Saturday, September 1, 2012

Bertha, The Window Fan Of Death

When I returned from my run this morning I walked into a perfectly air conditioned house. I don't know why, but it sparked a memory from my childhood when it was not always so. Having all the family here for Ashley's funeral today maybe has me thinking of the early days, so maybe something light is in order.

I grew up living in a "parsonage", which I later learned was code for " condemned housing". It was a house owned and by the church where my Dad was the pastor. This "maintaining" was done by a shadow organization called the "buildings and grounds committee", which I soon learned was code for "couple of old guys who show up two weeks after you've replaced the carpet caused by the exploding toilet". Anyway, I lived there from the age of 10 until I graduated from college in 1981. In all that time we had no air conditioning. I say "no air conditioning" when actually that isn't quite fair. We did have a window unit in our dining room conveniently placed three inches from the back of the heads of those unlucky enough to sit on the north side of the table. This explains the family pictures from Julys gone by when Mom and Linda would be wearing parkas, trying to twirl spaghetti onto a fork wearing mittens. Dad would only run it when we sat down to eat to save on the power bill. However, after months of complaining, Dad responded to our pleas for relief by designing and constructing...the Window Fan of Death.

You see, those fancy air conditioners were a rip-off, and unreliable. No, no, Dad had a better idea. He believed that the key to maintaining maximum indoor comfort was the constant circulation of the air. If only we could find a way to continuously rotate the air from inside to out, we could all live in sweatless bliss. So instead of buying a window fan at Western Auto like most other people would do, Dad decided to build his own.  "Those store bought fans are too cheaply made and not powerful enough for our needs", he explained in ominously foreshadowing tones. He then bought what looked like a small turbine engine, heavy as led, along with what looked like the propeller from a P-47 Thunderbolt. After that he went to the lumber yard and bought some 2x12's and some 1 inch chicken wire. My 12 year old brain was alive with wonder at what he could possibly be thinking. Soon it was all revealed. After construction was complete his full evil plan was made known. Donnie and I shared the smallest bedroom in the house. It was upstairs, and only slightly larger than the bathroom. But our room was chosen as the new home of "Bertha" as she became known. The plan was simple. Every window in the house was to be cracked open 6 inches. Then the fan, firmly ensconced in my bedroom window,pointing out, would be turned on sucking air from outside, inside. This refreshing breeze would insure that all of the stale air in the house would be replenished with God's air from the great big outdoors.  Ok.

There were some set backs. When Dad excitedly threw the switch for the first time, it triggered a county wide power outage that baffled government officials for years. After a few modifications we were ready for Bertha's maiden voyage. Dad threw the switch. For a scary few seconds all the lights dimmed and hissed, but then old Bertha came to life and the fun started. Within thirty seconds, a tornado of wild wind was sucking up everything in it's path. Pictures on the wall were shaking, loose paper was flying, toilet paper spinning off their racks, and soon our dog Zack was plastered wide-eyed to the chicken mesh. "Shut it down Emmett!! Shut it down!!!", Mom screamed, but no one could hear her. Finally our bunk beds began to slide across the floor, snapping Bertha's plug from the wall. Zack fell to the ground with a thud along with the  science homework I had been looking for for days. Dad was exultant. "Now, THAT'S a window fan!!"

After several more tweaks, Bertha was a permanent fixture in my bedroom. The noise and rumble was deafening, but I must admit that after awhile you got used to it. Before long it was even comforting. Of course, it did absolutely nothing for us in the cooling department. Dad would often brag.."Feel that breeze kids..feel that breeze", to which we would respond.."Yeah Dad, its like a hurricane from the Sahara desert just blew into our house".

To this day, I can't fall asleep without a fan in the room.