My sister and her husband, who live in Manhattan, hosted us for Thanksgiving and are graciously showing us the city. Our kids’ eyes bug out on a simple subway ride. From the flashing Times Square, wallpapered with billboard screens larger than our barns, we are headed towards Rockefeller Center to see the view from the Top of the Rock. We are gulping in the sensory stimulation.
Stopping for a moment, I plug my ear with my finger to hear the voice message: There is no heat or hot water. Right now, for three weeks, we are landlords. Four responsible college seniors have been renting the farmhouse, and we won’t move in until their semester ends. A bit awkward, but workable.
We have owned the farm for exactly one week. The furnace, apparently, is off today. The temperature outside is 34 degrees Farenheit. The predicted overnight temperature is something like 12 degrees. Manhattan seems very far from the farmhouse full of freezable water pipes in this moment.
Staying sort of calm, we keep walking. I make some initial phone calls—they shouldn’t be out of fuel oil, yet, we hope. We ride up 67 floors in darkness with loud music, blinking colored lights and images, our necks craned back, staring through the elevator’s clear ceiling at the illuminated elevator shaft through which we fly. We seem to be flying headfirst a lot these days.
This is the clearest day he’s seen from the top, says my sister’s husband, who works in this building. We can see Coney Island at the far edge of Brooklyn, with water beyond it. We see the Statue of Liberty, the Freedom Tower, the Empire State Building, and looking across the length of Central Park, the George Washington Bridge, and beyond that, hills leading to a cold farmhouse.
I breathe deeply a few times and pull out my phone to call furnace fix-it places and beg someone to check out our furnace today. As if we were on a wilderness peak, my cell phone doesn’t have enough service to complete a call.
So we enjoy the view, which is truly astonishing, then take the blue-lit elevator shaft back down to ground level. A few more phone calls, and we still have no one to check our furnace today. I feel edgy. We return to my sister’s apartment, pack our stuff, trade hugs, and drive back over the George Washington Bridge.
After more phone calls in the car, we reach Carmine, who kindly meets us at the farm in the dark and replaces the furnace’s transformer. The furnace has plenty of fuel, just a regular old broken part. I call the renting college student, who is out for the evening: the Heat Is On.
Later, I reflect while stewing a chicken that we raised and butchered this summer into garlicky broth and meat for chicken noodle soup. A warm house restores my mood of gratitude and perspective. At our Thanksgiving table, we went around twice, naming what we are thankful for, then ate slowly and well, with laughter. And in urgent moments requiring repair, I still somehow want to breathe deeply and take in the view.