Insurance Against the Heat

Dearest Rachel –

I’m sure you can guess, after yesterday’s letter, that I slept with the ceiling fan on. Indeed, I woke up so grateful for it – and for the misadventure brought it to be there.

You know, I started this series of the letters as a form of therapy, but also as a way to remember. I’ve always been afraid that I will forget our stories; I have but a few pages from my grandmother about life when she was growing up, so I know how little is left at the end – and there’s so much to tell, after all. I still regret the fact that I can’t remember – or can’t tell (wink, wink) – so many of the stories of our relationship, but there are enough misadventures that surround it to keep me occupied. Granted, I’m sure you remember the story – in fact, you could probably tell the story better than I could, as you were home to deal with it to an extent that I wasn’t – but I’d like to think it’s an entertaining enough read for others that might stumble upon it.

Anyway, you know that our home compares to generic suburban tract housing as Austin does to Texas: it’s weird, and it’s proud of it. Built in 1954, it was probably among the first homes built in our subdivision, since it was on the outskirts, and therefore meant as a showcase home – “Look at the homes we’re building here!” – to those driving by on Wilke. Don’t know if the builders used that old slogan, “If you lived here, you’d be home by now,” but it wouldn’t surprise me if they had.

Of course, as I’ve described several times previously, it didn’t stay the way it had been originally built for long. For all the details I have been given, I don’t know the exact illness she suffered from (although maybe it’s just a question of having forgotten), the mother of the first family of owners became bedridden – or as near as – and needed to be able to take care of the household without having to go up and down stairs (Among other things, this apparently included having to dispense with an in-house dance studio that she used to run out of the basement early on in their ownership of the place. Sometimes dreams die in odd ways). As a result, the family built an addition on the south side of the house, with a master bedroom, bathroom and the laundry room all in one area, so she didn’t have to bother with stairs going forward. For good measure, they also built a garage, pantry and the dining/family room we spend most of our waking time in. And since Daniel sleeps on the couch in the latter, we effectively spent (and still spend) almost all of our home time in one or another of these additions.

It was part of the appeal of the place when we were looking; this place had indoor area that dwarfed most of the other houses in the area, without being ostentatious – although the master bedroom, in particular, is immense, taking up at least the same amount of space as the yellow room and Daniel’s room combined. We’re – or rather, I’m – spoiled by it. But there are a few issues with it.

Since these portions of the house aren’t part of the original build, the piping pertaining to heating and ventilation don’t exist in them. The original owners got around this by installing wall-mounted space heaters on opposite sides of the house, to heat each section as needed. Air conditioning was a non-issue; the house simply didn’t have it until we moved in and installed it some ten or fifteen (or maybe twenty by now? I remember taking out a loan for it, but I also remember paying it off before we were to accrue interest on it, so we weren’t exactly in our worst financial position at the time) years ago. The couple we bought the place from was hesitant to use the heaters, for whatever reason (it was never clear to me whether they objected to the extra cost on the gas bill, or if they saw them as being janky fire hazards – maybe both); so they didn’t appear to bother using those areas all that much. Whatever; we moved in to use it as we saw fit, and weren’t too concerned about the attitudes of previous owners towards one section of the house or another. Besides, you were more than happy to create your own fire hazards in the family room hearth.

So what does this all have to do with the ceiling fan, and why I’m grateful for it?

Well, nothing at first. As I said – and you’d remember – there was nothing in the house to mitigate against the heat back when we moved in, but we made sure to remedy that. Unfortunately, there was nothing to be done about the bedroom, even as the dining and family rooms could leach off of the vents at the edge of the sunroom. But certain external forces – you might call them acts of God – conspired to change things.

I didn’t know this when we bought the place – it was, after all, the first (and thus far only) house I’ve ever owned – but we had to purchase insurance on the house as part of the purchasing process. That, and we’ve had to renew it every year since. It’s a nuisance to have to pay every year, I suppose, but it’s hardly unreasonable; the law requires us to do the same thing for our automobiles, so the fact that homeowners’ insurance is a legal requirement stands to reason. On the other hand, the likelihood that we’d be in an accident with the house seemed unlikely, unless we were able to tool it down the highway at seventy miles an hour or something. Or so I thought.

Before the B’s moved into the house next door, our neighbors to the south of us had a rather large tree to the side, between each of our houses. Trees were (and I guess still are) a big selling point for houses, from an aesthetic standpoint, although of the four we used to have in our backyard, only two are still standing. And in front of our house, we took down

Before the B’s moved into the house next door, our neighbors to the south of us had a rather large tree to the side, between each of our houses. Trees were (and I guess still are) a big selling point for houses, from an aesthetic standpoint, although of the four we used to have in our backyard, only two are still standing. And in front of our house, we took down that apple tree that was entwined with the cherry tree, while the municipality removed the tree on our front apron due to an insect infestation, I believe.

The tree between the houses, however, was one that should have been taken down that wasn’t… at least, not right away. Shortly after we moved in – maybe a year or so after – there was a wind storm that took a large branch off that tree, which fell on our house. It didn’t do serious damage to it – just a glancing blow to the corner of the yellow room – but it was enough to require repairs so that rain wouldn’t leak into the house. It was at this point, you’ll recall, that we came to understand the point of homeowners’ insurance. Every bit of the repair was covered by our policy, and we were happy.

Well… not entirely. That wind storm also left a portion of the neighbors’ tree dangling over our house, like the sword of Damocles, only bigger and more wooden. We tried to ask our provider if something could be done about it before there was another such accident, but it seemed that their hands were tied. The tree was, after all, on the neighbors’ property, so it wasn’t our call. They’d help us out if something were to happen, but preventative measures couldn’t be taken.

And so, they wound up having to pay for the pound of cure instead. Because sure enough, a much larger section of tree eventually crashed through our bedroom ceiling; the branch all but touching our bed (and a good thing it didn’t, quite, as we were still using that waterbed mattress in those days – can you imagine the mess if that had been punctured?). And as long as we had to get the ceiling hole patched (on the insurance company’s dime), we asked the handyman we were employing to fix it if he couldn’t install a ceiling fan in the process. He agreed, as long as we would purchase the fan ourselves separately, and life in the bedroom has been that much cooler (and, come to that, better lit) ever since. And I’m still appreciating it to this day – and most likely will be for the next three or four months, at least.

There’s a little ironic coda to this story; again, you remember this well, but it needs to be told to be kept in living memory. Since you had reported a minor amount of flood damage to the insurance company during our first year in the house (not asking for any recompense, just a case of naïvely following orders to report any such incidents to the company), this was, as far as they were concerned, our third claim. Never mind that we asked for nothing that first time, never mind that this second drop should have been prevented; we were – or our house was – too much of a risk. They dropped us, leaving us to look for another company to cover us going forward.

It took a little doing (and we had to join the state farm bureau in order to be covered), but we managed. And since then, we’ve had no claims on our property for any damage or theft, and that’s been something like twenty years at least.

Even more ironically, the company that stopped covering our house was still happily covering your life insurance (we were insuring you because for the longest time I was already insured by my company, so you would be set to take care of the mortgage should anything happen to me, but I’d still be on the hook to your parents if something happened to you) at the time of the accident. And we were considering letting that lapse, since once you turned fifty-one, the rates would increase twelvefold – and it wasn’t as if we needed to deal with a mortgage anymore, in any event. I won’t say we got a last laugh on that company, as what happened to you wasn’t funny, and I wouldn’t wish it on anyone (although I’m sure there are those who would appreciate an instantaneous departure like yours), but we managed to soak that particular insurance company twice over. Maybe you would have seen the humor in it; you and I certainly thought they’d made a bad call dropping us (and missing out on the twenty years of premiums they would have received) regarding the house.

The bedroom is still noticeably stuffy in comparison to the rest of the house – especially since the construction crew keeps the door shut while they’re working in the laundry room (which has no such heat mitigation factors, those poor guys) – but it’s certainly better than nothing.

Anyway, that’s all I’ve got for now. I’ll catch up with you later, honey. Until then, keep an eye out for me.

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I am Rachel's husband. Was. I'm still trying to deal with it. I probably always will be.

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