Jerry Nelson: How I made a habit of saying 'good job'

Jerry Nelson
Special to the Farm Forum
Image of the author.

The event was remarkable because it was so uncommon, although not as unusual as spotting the Loch Ness Monster. That would be quite a feat, especially since Loch Ness is located several thousand miles away.

The oddity that afflicted us was a two-hour electrical outage. We hardly ever lose power for more than half an hour.

This is a far cry from the pioneering ancestors who homesteaded our farm and had to put up with power outages that went on for decades. That was long before the Rural Electrification Act was signed, but still.

Humans are strange creatures. We only complain when something has gone wrong; we never issue a compliment when things work as expected. When was the last time you called the phone company and said, “There has been a dial tone every time I picked up the receiver during the past year and I want to thank you for that”?

It was a fairly mild spring afternoon when we lost power, so it wasn’t like we were worried about freezing. But after more than an hour had passed, I called our electric cooperative’s toll-free “Hey, we don’t have any juice!” hotline.

A machine on the other end answered (they obviously still had electricity!) and I had to punch in our street address. The machine then informed me that the cooperative was already aware of the outage, which, it said, was due to a utility pole that had been broken off by our screaming-like-a-banshee springtime winds.

I hung up the phone and was about to share this news with my wife when she said, “The outage was caused by a utility pole that was broken off by the high winds.”

My wife’s mind-reading powers grow more and more astonishing with each passing year. “How did you know that?” I asked.

“The power cooperative posted it on their Facebook page,” she replied with the coolness of a schoolkid who had just shown off her smarts to the entire class.

Surfing the internet during an electrical outage seems like a contradiction. We should really call our cell phone carrier and thank them for their service.

A few days later, we experienced another unwelcome interruption when our furnace forgot how to light its fire. I thought I was the only one with memory problems!

The crackling sound of logs burning in a stove is a sensation only matched by the warmth a nice fire brings.

As with many modern gizmos, our furnace has a digital brain that controls all of its functions. The furnace would try to get going but would give up halfway through the startup process. Whenever this happens to me, I remedy the situation with several cups of strong coffee.

My wife reported the furnace malfunction in the middle of the night. “It’s getting chilly in here,” she said, interrupting a dream about being a mattress tester who works in a refrigerated warehouse.

I dutifully stumbled to the basement to investigate. Yep! The furnace wasn’t doing its job.

“What’s wrong?” she asked when I came back upstairs.

“There’s a teensy guy who lives in a little compartment next to the burner. It’s his job to light the fire, but he’s gone on strike. He wants a raise, an increase in overtime pay and an expense-paid vacation in Palm Springs.”

That wasn’t true, but it was the best I could come up with at 2 a.m.

These sort of things never happen during normal business hours. They unfailingly befall us in the middle of the night, usually at the start of a three-day holiday weekend.

The roaring winds had funneled in some chilly springtime temperatures. With thoughts of frozen pipes and a freezing spouse crowding my mind, I hurriedly set about to building a fire in the wood-burning stove that squats in our basement like a large, black toad.

As I put match to kindling, I muttered imprecations at the little guy in the furnace who wasn’t lighting his fire. What a jerk!

It wasn’t long before a cheery fire was blazing in the belly of the stove. I was congratulating myself when the furnace decided to relaunch its start cycle. It fired up flawlessly and began to pump warm air throughout the house.

“What did you do?” asked my wife from the top of the stairs. “How did you fix the furnace?”

“The little ignitor guy just needed a pep talk,” I replied, trying to sound like a furnace repair expert.

We called a real furnace repair expert in the morning, and he replaced some sort of mysterious, electronic doodad. The furnace is again working perfectly.

I’ve learned my lesson. From now on, I’m going to thank that little ignitor guy every so often for doing such a great job.

If you'd like to contact Jerry Nelson to do some public speaking, or just to register your comments, you can email him at His book, “Dear County Agent Guy,” is available at and at booksellers everywhere.