by Matthew Arnold Stern
This is a modern-day folk tale I gave for the advanced Toastmasters manual, “Storytelling.” I first delivered this speech on 18 May, 1993.
Some folk tales originate from the thick, mist-filled woods of the Black Forest. Some originate from the untamed wilderness of North America. But, the folk tale I’m sharing with you tonight doesn’t come from any of those places. It comes from the suburb of Reseda, California. It is called, “Edgar, The Brave Evaporative Cooler.”
Edgar was born nearly thirty years ago. He was a Lennox model 360, the best of its class. He featured a dual-speed fan and high-capacity water pump. His home was on top of the Owen house at 19653 Yolanda Street in Reseda.
The Owens took good care of Edgar. They always made sure he had regular maintenance and had his filter pads replaced once a year. During the winter, when he wasn’t in use, they covered him with a blue cooler cover to protect him from the rain. And in return for their good care, Edgar kept the Owens cool and comfortable every summer, even during those hundred-plus days Reseda had during August and September.
Edgar wasn’t alone on top of the house. He had a friend: Randy, the Radio Shack UHF/VHF color antenna. Together, they stood proudly on top of the Owen house for many, many years. They shared that exciting day when Randy received the broadcast of Neil Armstrong’s walk on the moon, and the two talked about it excitedly for days. They watched the young children in the neighborhood venture out on their first tricycles, and then two-wheelers, and then automobiles. They watched new shopping malls and housing tracts emerge in the distance.
But, one day, something terrible happened. A man climbed up on the roof and began disconnecting Randy. Edgar cried, “Randy! Randy! What is he doing to do you!?” Randy sobbed, “Ack! They’ve got cable!” In a matter of moments, the man had unbolted Randy and tossed him over the roof like a dead, broken branch. Edgar was powerless to help his friend as he was hauled off in the man’s truck.
For the first time in his life, Edgar felt truly alone. He wondered if he would be the next to be hauled away.
Then, one day, he saw Mrs. Owen talking to a neighbor on the lawn. The neighbor said, “Y’know, Betty, Pete and I just got one of those central air conditioners for our house, and it’s just wonderful.”
Mrs. Owen replied, “Well, we’ve had our evaporative cooler for many years, and it works just fine.”
“But don’t you get all hot and sticky during the summer?”, the neighbor replied. “Y’know, we thought our cooler was fine for a long time. But, the Valley’s a lot more humid now, and those old coolers just don’t do the job.”
Mrs. Owen thought for moment. “Come to think of it, it does get a little uncomfortable on some of the really hot days. But I don’t think Jim would want to spend the money for a new air conditioner.”
The neighbor said, “Well, I’ll tell you, Betty. That air conditioner was the best investment we ever made. It’s well worth the money, I’ll tell you that.”
Every screw and nut in Edgar’s body tightened as he listened to them. “How dare Mrs. Owen say that she’s not as comfortable as she used to be,” he told himself. “Didn’t I do everything to keep them cool on those hot days? And how could anyone say that I’m not doing my job!? Sure, I’ve been around for a while, but I’m not ready to be tossed out on scrap heap!”
Edgar tried to relax and build his confidence again. “I shouldn’t worry,” he told himself. “Mr. Owen will set her right.”
But, the next day, an air-conditioning salesman showed up at the door. Then, another came the following day. Then, another one! Edgar began to get nervous. Finally, he saw Mr. Owen and Mrs. Owen standing on the front lawn with one of the salesmen. The salesman told them, “I’m afraid we’re booked up through the Fourth of July. We can get someone out here on the twelfth.”
“The twelfth will be fine,” Mr. Owen replied.
Edgar’s high-capacity water pump sank. Moisture began to glisten on his body. Some would say it was condensation, but it was as close as Edgar could come to crying.
That Fourth of July, the fireworks from Reseda Park exploded brilliantly in sparkling blossoms of red, yellow, and green. But Edgar couldn’t enjoy the display. He sat there sadly, realizing that this would the last Fourth of July he would ever see.
Suddenly, Edgar smelled something strange. Could it be? It was – Smoke! Edgar saw a small wisp emerging from the roof. At the base of the smoke, there was a small flicker of light. It was a sparkler that some neighbor’s kid threw on the roof. The flicker of light grew brighter and bigger. It turned into a small flame. Then, a larger one.
Edgar became terrified. The wood-shake roof was on fire! Edgar gasped, “Where are the Owens!? Don’t they know?” He remembered that the Owens always went to bed early.
Edgar realized that it was up to him to save the house. If he didn’t douse the flames somehow, the whole house would soon be engulfed in fire.
Edgar latched shut the flow valve and began to pump. Pressure began to build on the right-side flow pipe. As the pressure built, Edgar began to vibrate – first slightly, then violently. He vibrated so hard that the filter pads loosened and fell off his body. As much as Edgar wanted to relieve the pressure, he knew that he had to keep it building.
All the noise and vibration Edgar created, along with the smoke, drove the Owens from their slumber. It also drew the attention of others in the neighborhood.
Edgar saw the large patches of smoke and bright flames rise from the roof. He kept building up the pressure as fast as he could.
Suddenly, the joints around the flow pipe began to leak. Then, the pipe burst open! Water gushed out of Edgar and on to the flames. In moments, the fire subsided and disappeared, until the final wisps of smoke vanished into the night sky.
The Owens’ house was saved. But, as for Edgar, all that was left of him was a bare metal frame, dripping with the last drops of water from his burned-out water pump. He had given his life to save the Owen family.
The Owens replaced their roof with a modern composition roof that met the latest California fire standards. After much delay, they also got their new air conditioner. But the didn’t get rid of Edgar. They replaced the filter pads and bolted him back together. Then, they placed his favorite blue cover over him, a symbol of their appreciation of him.
So, if you ever go to Yolanda Street in Reseda, and you see a house with a blue box on the roof, remember the courage and loyalty of Edgar, the Brave Evaporative Cooler.