Black spray paint

My neighbor three doors down repainted their metal gates this weekend with black spray paint. It was a sunny afternoon, and I had my lanai door open. An acrid aroma wafted into my living room and found its way into my brain. Before I could act, I was instantly transported to my grandparents’s musty basement.

Black spray paint smells like a fiery coal furnace in a can.

They lived in a tiny two bedroom house that had a stone foundation and wood walls, which they heated with a coal furnace. The house was located in the southeastern potato field part of Idaho, where icy winter winds could freeze exposed nose hairs in about five seconds. Because of the extreme cold, their coal-fired furnace was located underground, alongside the potatoes in the cellar, where it was more likely not to ice over.

My grandfather’s sole priority during the winter was to shovel and stoke the beastly furnace with coal nuggets to keep his family from freezing to death. By the time I first visited my grandparents at their house, central natural gas heat already the norm everywhere else. I had never even heard of coal.

Their basement was an adults-only zone, but he made an exception for me one time, probably because I was old enough to almost qualify and I could be relentlessly inquisitive to the point of freaking annoying. So he and I tred lightly down the uneven, slippery stone steps into a dark, musty cave filled with smoke and gas. I was drawn toward the glow of the black iron box on the opposite side of the room. I choked and teared and covered my nose with my sleeve. But I couldn’t take my eyes off the flaming tongues licking for air. He shoveled a few loads of coal into its belly while I stood there sweaty and mesmerized.

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