On the Bend of the Ohio

On the Bend of the Ohio February 1, 2022


It wasn’t until after evening Mass on Sunday that I noticed the house was getting unusually cold.

It wasn’t until  later that I admitted to myself that turning up the thermostat wasn’t working.

It was eleven o’clock at night when I heard the hum of the furnace fan, not blowing any air.

It sounded a bit like a kazoo.

I put on my coat because the basement is drafty, and I went down to the cellar to investigate. There was the furnace, an enormous gray-green rectangle with the name of a St. Louis foundry stamped on it, humming the way my chest hums when I’ve got pneumonia. I pulled off the cover of the front of it and found the pilot light burning merrily, and a tangle of ancient-looking machinery. The fan certainly wasn’t blowing. We called the landlord, who answered right away even though it was nearly midnight and said “I’ll send a guy in the morning to fix it.”

The downstairs was cooling off rapidly, but heat rises. The bedroom was almost hospitable. Rose’s astonished guinea pig went into a laundry basket next to my bed upstairs for the night; the basket was set on top of my heating pad for extra warmth. Michael, Rosie and I were miserable in two layers of clothing with only the electric blanket. None of the four of us slept well. Every time I dozed off I dreamed I was trudging outside in the snow. And then our nightmare of a harassing neighbor would open the door and let out her dog with a rattle of rusty chain, and my nerves would shake ne awake. Finally, the sky grew light, and then it was late enough that stores were open. Michael decided to warm himself by going on a fast walk to Kroger to buy a space heater, leaving me to wait for the repairman.

The repairman was there at eight-thirty sharp. I took him down to the cellar and showed him the furnace with pneumonia. It turns out that this furnace was from well before I was born, the fan was dead, and the whole thing would have to be replaced with a new model.

He left, on his phone with the landlord, to buy us a furnace.

I realized this repair would take most of a day instead of an hour.

I started to go back to bed, but Rosie had claimed the whole electric blanket for herself and was balled up in it, finally comfortable and deep asleep.

Michael came back with a tiny cube of a space heater only big enough to make the guinea pig comfortable. I fled to the only other warm place, which was the car, saying I’d come back with a proper space heater that could heat a space bigger than the pig cage. I took an extra long time at Walmart, walking up and down every aisle, admiring everything there was to admire; anything to buy time  so I didn’t have to go home again. And then, on a whim, I texted Michael that I was going to get Rose a gluten free  treat they only sell at the grocery store the next town over– just so I could linger in the car’s heat a few minutes longer.

The next town happened to be Toronto, Ohio.

I drove through Toronto for a bit, and stopped at a small park where the boat landing is, to turn around. And that’s when I got stuck.

I’ve only had the car since March. I’ve only been a licensed driver since October of 2020. I hadn’t driven on snow in my life until this year. I had already gotten stuck driving up a hill earlier that weekend, and had to be talked through getting out of the snow again by my friends. This time I drove onto a parking lot that hadn’t been plowed, not realizing how deep it was, and then I realized I was trapped. I couldn’t go forward so I backed up, but I couldn’t back up in a straight line. I skidded in a comical loop, very slowly, and then stayed put. I was only a few feet from dry pavement, but I couldn’t get onto the pavement. The car was rooted in place.

I texted a humiliated apology to Michael for having to wait for his heater, and I texted Triple A. They said they’d be out to rescue me in an hour.

I had nothing to do, so I waited in the park in the snow, watching the river.

Thanks to the bends of the Ohio, you can’t see any dark Satanic mills from the riverside in Toronto. You can’t see the Follansbee chimney or the chimney in Brilliant to the south, nor the gigantic hulk of the W. H. Sammis power plant to the north. It just looks like a river. It looks like someplace that isn’t the Ohio Valley.

On this day there were little ice patches near the shore, and shore birds awhile off. The rest of the river was empty, placid, perfectly mirroring the snow-covered foothills of the chimney of West Virginia. One perfect mound rose up to a clear sky, and one perfect mound dipped down until it almost touched the shore. The firmament above was pure blue, the kind of blue it’s not enough to look at: I wanted to touch that blue, to rub my nose on it and see if it has a smell. I wanted to lick it and see if it tasted like candy.  I wanted to reach into the sky and bring a rectangle of that blue down to wrap around my shoulders like a silk scarf. I wanted to fly into that blue.

For a little while, nothing hurt. I wasn’t cold, and I wasn’t annoyed, and I wasn’t embarrassed. I was looking at the sky, that was all.

And then the tow truck came, and I went home to a houseful of dust and chaos, a sleepy daughter and a grumpy guinea pig.

That’s not a very good story, but it’s what I did today.


Image of the bend of the Ohio river in Toronto, Ohio, taken by the author 

Mary Pezzulo is the author of Meditations on the Way of the Cross and Stumbling into Grace: How We Meet God in Tiny Works of Mercy.
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