The Tribune Democrat, Johnstown, PA

January 8, 2012

Tom Lavis | Pop's obsession with furnace was long-running serial


— I called my brother the other day to wish him a happy birthday.

The lucky stiff also is celebrating the first anniversary of his retirement.

As he and I get older, we agree that enjoying the simple things in life are the best.

We also concur that with each passing year, we both become more like our late father, Howard.

Dad taught us so many things, not so much by telling us but leading by example.

My brother and I enjoy sitting along a stream on a hot summer afternoon waiting for fish to bite. We also are inclined to immediately return a borrowed tool from a friend or neighbor when we finish using it.

However, we also inherited some of our father’s idiosyncrasies.

We are frugal to a fault. Or as my wife likes to say, I’m tight-fisted.

She once told me I could make a monk look like a big spender.

My motto is, why buy new when you can save money by buying gently used, secondhand items.

I think this is a result of getting hand-me-downs – such as clothes, bicycles and even shoes – while growing up.

Another characteristic we inherited was the ability to worry incessantly about nothing.

I believe my dad made more mountains out of molehills than anyone I knew.

After I teased my brother about being an old geezer, he asked me for advice about a strange noise he heard coming from his basement.

I gave him a two-word answer: Rice Krispies.

It was a reference we came up with to describe our dad's penchant for hearing what he thought were sounds of furnace trouble.

He would call one of us and say something was either snapping, crackling or popping.

He laughed heartily, then said that what he heard sounded like a crackle, but with no accompanying snap or pop.

These sounds haunted my dad during winter months when he was cooped up in his house.

His worse fear was having the furnace fail, his pipes freeze and then burst, resulting in a flooded house.

See how the molehill grew.

Winter gave him a lot of time to sit and listen for mystifying noises that could have spelled disaster.

After getting one such call from my father, I went to his home for a cup of coffee and a good listen.

“Did you hear that?’ he once said, insisting that his oil burner was making a loud thumping noise.

In all honestly, I did not hear a thing.

After a second cup of coffee while waiting for the furnace to recycle, he yelled: “There, you must have heard that.”

He became quite upset when I told him that the only thing I heard was the furnace’s blower running as it pushed air through the system.

I assured my father that everything was fine.

He had his furnace serviced every year like clockwork. It was a relatively new unit, and he changed the air filters more often than Newt Gingrich changed wives.

Since my dad wore two hearing aids, he may have heard things only he and the neighborhood dogs could make out.

When my father insisted that his furnace be replaced, I told him I would take his old one because there was nothing wrong with it.

He decided to keep it, but I don’t think he got a good night’s sleep the rest of that winter.

While my brother’s hearing is normal, he insisted that his furnace was also buzzing and clicking.

I advised him that if he heard any banging, rattling or squealing he should call a service technician.

“The ... nace kicked on ... ink it was ... ing,” he said.

I couldn’t understand him.

“It sounds like you have marbles in your mouth,” I said.

He told me he was eating breakfast.

“What are you eating?” I asked.

“Rice Krispies,” he snapped.

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