The Radiator

Published: May 30, 2014 - by Dan Holohan

Categories: History Lesson, Darn-Good Stories

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This radiator, the one by the front door, was born in the mind of a young man, now dead, one day in July in a small town in New England.

He had grown up drawing and tinkering, and that had led naturally to this. Most days he spent dreaming and imagining, and today he was working on the radiator. It would be functional, of course. It had to be that, but if he did his job well, he knew he could also make it beautiful. He was, in a way, a sculptor, and even though he knew that most people don't notice the beauty in simple things he still did his best because this was his art. This simple radiator.

The young man's design sprang from his mind and his hands and became a mold, and then one day in the foundry other men pounded sand into his mold and then poured molten iron, as bright as the sun, and the young man was there to watch the birth.

It took hours for the section to cool, and when they shook the sand from it and cleaned it the man was there to see what had once been just an idea. And he thought it was beautiful.

They cast many more sections that week, and they joined them together with iron nipples that had threads running clockwise and counterclockwise. The men grunted in the heat as they did this work, and they didn't give much thought to the art. It was good, hard work, and it was steady work, and that was what mattered. There were families to feed.

And there was this traveling man. He made his way up and down the east coast by train. He sat in sweaty cars with other traveling me, smoking, and swapping stories. He was garrulous and people liked him. And he was also like a dray horse in the way he traveled, as were all good traveling men. He was as regular as clockwork. From city to city, it was always the same. He'd arrive in a place and take rooms in the same hotel, always the same, and the trade press would announce his arrival in their weekly magazines. They would let people know that he would be in his rooms downtown, and that he would be receiving prospective customers between certain hours. He had brought literature, and small samples of his product, and he would be showing a new radiator on this trip.

The buyers came and they liked the radiator. Surely the well-to-do who could afford this new central heating would feel the same, so they placed their orders and waited for delivery.

The radiators also traveled by train, and then by wagon to the supply houses where burly men grappled them into place so that the builders and the architects and the tradesmen could come and look. And these people liked what they saw. The radiator was simply beautiful!

A fitter worked with his apprentice one day in a fine house not far from downtown. Twenty of the new radiators would warm the people who would live in this house, and the fitter was pleased because he had gotten a fair price. He had figured sixty days labor for this job because that's how they did things then - three days labor per radiator for a fitter and his apprentice. This allowed enough time to cut the pipe by hand, and to do right by the many angles and turns in the piping that the steam required. It was a proud trade, and it took time to do it right.

The family moved into their new home and they lived there for many years. There were children and grandchildren, wars and quieter times, sickness, health, good times and bad. They lived there through hot summers and warm winters, and the radiators served them well during all those years. Father would come home from business and that radiator, the one by the front door, would greet him before anyone else in the family. On frigid days, he would turn toward it as soon as he walked through the door. He'd take off his gloves and his wet hat and he'd place them on top of the radiator to dry, and then he would hold his palms toward the iron and absorb its warmth. He hardly noticed the radiator's delicate iron embroidery anymore.

Time passed and another family came to live in the house. It's like that here . People live their lives and leave, but the buildings remain, waiting patiently. The new family was different from the old in some ways, similar in others. They moved in, and never really noticed the radiators. These were just fixtures to the new people, a part of the house. They were functional and no one noticed anymore, except when there was a noise. And even this they came to accept as normal. "I hear the steam," the mother would say. "Must be fall," the father would answer. It was a surprise now, the day the steam came up. It wasn't that way with the first family. Back then, mother would have to make the fire each morning. She knew when the steam was coming. No surprises then. But this family had an oil burner. They were a modern family, and they spent little time thinking about the heating system, or noticing the radiators.

The old dog did, though. He noticed the radiators, especially this radiator, the one by the front door. He slept on the throw run in front of that radiator on most winter days, taking in the glorious warmth, waiting for the man to return from work.

The children grew and left and returned with their own children, and one day Molly touched the radiator by the front door and burned herself. She let out a screech that had everyone running at the same time. Her mother scooped her up and comforted her, and then laughed, remembering. "I did that once," she said to the still-crying Molly. She smiled at her father and he smiled back. "But only once, sweetie. I did it only once. Be careful. The radiator is hot!" Molly looked through the shelter of her mother's arms at the old radiator. "Bad!" she said, and her mother laughed again.

More years passed and each family left memories in the old house. The radiator, the one by the front door, was now an autumn-red color. There were other colors beneath this one, and these were but memories. Times and tastes change.

New people came and they both agreed that the old radiators had to go. They weren't able to see the beauty beneath the many coats of paint. They couldn't hear the memories. So they hired a contractor and he brought in his crew and they ripped out the old boiler, and the pipes, and the radiator, and they carted it all off to the dump.

And that old radiator, the one by the front door, faded in the sunlight and rusted in the rain, and waited patiently for nature to return its elements to the earth where it would join with those of a young man who had once tinkered and dreamed, and made something beautiful.