Bungalow Life was Ruptured When the Water Heater Blew Up!

26 Feb

Bungalow colony life in the Catskills was peaceful. Each day we knew some of the basics of what would happen.

The mothers played cards and mah jonng on a set schedule. The grandmas played canasta. All the women knitted and crocheted during the day. We went swimming. We played. We picked blueberries. We rode our bicycles. We just had fun. On the weekends, the dads came up. It was simple and quiet, except for the sounds of childhood and the sometimes yells of the moms.

The moms had several important needs. One was hot water.

We needed to shower and the moms needed to do laundry. Without hot water, life at the bungalows would come to a standstill. Children got extremely dirty with all the outdoor activities in the summertime. We could wash off in the lake, but not our clothing. So the moms were always busy with laundry.

People did their laundry on certain days because there were only two washing machines in our colony. I think they might have had a schedule, but I cannot be sure. I do know that the laundry room often had loads of laundry waiting to be done. People would put their baskets in the laundry room, with their detergent on top of the clothes, and as one person finished her load, she would load up the next person’s laundry in the machine and start it.

The wet laundry had to be hung on lines. We did not have dryers at our colony. I am not even sure if clothes dryers were available when I was little. So the clotheslines were always in use. Clothespins were important. I still have some I saved from the Catskills!

This meant that rainy summers were a disaster for the moms. Children would sometimes have to wear the same dirty clothes for another day, if they could not be washed and dried. During rainy summers, we often had laundry hanging all over the bungalow during the week. And it really did not dry that well because it was all so damp. Sometimes my Mom would put the oven on to try to dry out the laundry.

We would visit our friends during rainy summers, and walk through layers of drying laundry! Clean clothes, clean linens, clean towels were important!

So imagine the aggravation it caused when the water heater went out. It did not happen very often. But once in a while the pilot light would go out and the heater would stop making hot water. Usually one of the men would go and light the heater. It usually was no problem. The heater lit easily.

Except for one time. The time my best friend, Vicki’s, Dad went to light the water heater. I cannot remember if someone tried to light it before him. I do not remember if he was the only dad up there, so he got to do it. I do know that usually my dad did all the chores since my grandparent’s own the colony. I do not know why it was Normie who had the job on this particular day. But he did.

Normie and his wife, Wini, in matching sweaters in the center. My grandfather stands behind my grandma.  Wini's parents are the women sitting on the left and the man standing on the right.  At the bungalows in the Catskills in the 1950s.

Normie and his wife, Wini, in matching sweaters in the center. My grandfather stands behind my grandma. Wini’s parents are the women sitting on the left and the man standing on the right. At the bungalows in the Catskills in the 1950s.

His in-laws and my grandparents were best friends. My Mom and his wife were best friends. (A friendship that continued till my Mom passed away.   And still continues with us.) And his daughter, Vicki, and I do not know life without each other. So it made some sense that Normie would take on this responsibility if my Dad or uncle was not there.

But we are not sure why it was Normie who went to light the water heater pilot.

I was just a little girl. But I remember what happened next.

Normie went to light the water heater, it was behind a bungalow.

A moment later there was a big “BOOM” explosion and a blast of fire shooting into the sky.

It was so scary!!! Everyone was momentarily stunned. Then there was chaotic movement.

I vaguely remember Normie walking out from behind the bungalow, dazed. Perhaps burning. Or maybe not! Maybe it was just people rushing towards him to get him away from the fire. There was a lot of screaming; a lot of running around. It is so confused in our memories. But there was good new, he was alive.

Then the Moms gathered the children and made us go inside. I am sure Vicki went with me. All I remember is that we were quickly moved out of the way.

Next thing came the fire engine and ambulance and the volunteer firemen and ambulance/EMT crew. It was amazing how quickly they got to the colony. The fire was soon extinguished. Normie was taken away. The children, me included, were terrified.

My friend Vicki remembers, “I remember going to see him in the hospital. He smelled like A & D ointment or some kind of burn cream he had on.

“I was so devastated that happened to him. I thought he would never come home!”

But Normie did come home. He had no eyebrows or eyelashes, but the fire did not reach his face. He had no chest hair; the fire singed that off. The main damage was to his legs. They were burned.

I remember before the explosion, he had large varicose veins on his legs, but after the fire, you would not really see them.

He often wore a bathing suit in the summer time. And we all got used to seeing his burned, scarred legs.

It was a summer event I cannot forget. To this day I hate when someone has to light a pilot light.   I know that it can explode because of my memories of the day the water heater blew up.

 

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2 Responses to “Bungalow Life was Ruptured When the Water Heater Blew Up!”

  1. Amy February 26, 2015 at 12:08 pm #

    Great storytelling. You had me in suspense! I am glad Normie survived. I have never liked pilot lights either, even without such a terrifying experience.

    • zicharon February 26, 2015 at 3:24 pm #

      Thank you. Yes, I think that is why I have electric oven and stove!

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