If the Old Wood Stove Could Talk

I grew up in a small community called Pleasant Ridge, a suburb of the big city of Elkin, North Carolina, population… not many. I always knew we were a different sort of family. We never socialized with the church people unless they came knocking on our door to try and evangelize us, to save our souls. Sometimes if we caught them pulling into the drive we’d hide as they knocked on our door. Eventually they would go away, but we knew they would return, because they were do-gooders!

No really, this did happen; but the women who graced our door ever so often were wonderful ladies. As the years added up I grew to respect these two women and would often wish I were as dedicated to the Lord’s work as they were. I recently went to visit one of them who has been in the nursing home for many years. She looked at me and tears came to her eyes as she remembered the times I’d helped her and her husband tie tobacco. We reminisced about this and that, she is such a dear soul, as treasured memories surfaced I confirmed this do-gooder was really good! The other do-good lady passed away about ten years ago, knowing her well, she too was a true do-gooder.

Back to my family who was, and still is somewhat dysfunctional. As I recall, my sister and I had chores every day. One was to gather the eggs from underneath the hens. We’d go to the chicken house and shoo the birds from their nests. Some cooperated and some did not. Those mamas didn’t want to give up their eggs, so sometimes there was a fight. I must admit I was a coward. After the first hen flogged me I shunned the chicken house. My poor sister was left with the dangerous deed. One more thing I need to remember to thank her for.

Another chore was to bring in the firewood. There was a shed out back of the house we called the smokehouse. In it hams were hung to cure out after being rubbed with lots of salt and pepper or sugar. Connected to that smokehouse was the wood shed. I remember it sloped down in the back so you didn’t ever have to worry about the wood falling over on you. My sister and I would tote that wood to the back porch and pile it up, enough to do till the next day. Or if there was bad weather coming we’d gather in extra. I hated those days, cold and snowy, wind whipping through your clothes, chilling you beyond numbness. I also hated the fact that the only place to get warm in the house was right in front of the wood heater. On a cold winters night if you ventured off to another room other than the one the heater was in you were soon chilled to the bone. Sometimes on a really frigid night if you stood really close to the heater your front would be scorching, but your back would be ice cold.

Finally daddy was able to afford an oil circulator. There are stories I can tell about it too but I’ll leave that for later. Growing up I detested being different. No one else heated with wood. They had an indoor bathroom, went to church, had new clothes, and their mama’s and daddy’s didn’t sometimes forget them.

As a young married couple my husband and I bought my grandparents old farmhouse, and guess what? There was no heat, so we had us a big ole’ cast iron wood heater built. It was fancy with duel fans, one on each side of the firebox. It tried it’s best to keep us warm through years of cold, snowy winters, but the old house had no insulation, doors were drafty and the wind blew the curtains outward from the windows on a shivering night. God bless that old wood heater!

We retired the heater about ten years ago. Got us a new fangled heat pump, and placed gas logs in the spot the old heater used to sit. But I still couldn’t part with the heater so we put it into storage in the shed out back. There it sat for several years. All the while this person or that one asked if they could buy it. “No” I’d say it’s not for sale! There was no way I would part with it. That stove was part of the family. I always thought I might someday have a basement that I could hook it up in. For how could I part with something that had shared our every success and failure? Heard all our stories and secrets. For centuries old men have gathered around wood heaters down at the country store, chatting, telling tales and stretching the truth. If all the old stoves could talk, can you imagine the stories they could tell? The wood stove is to some of us closer than kin. A friend when all others fail.

The day came five years ago next month when I finally moved into a house with a basement, I had a home for my heater! My Grandma Verlie had passed away and we were offered the opportunity to buy her second house. I’ve often wondered why I lived in her first house and then in her second? That’s another blog altogether. Maybe that wood stove had been praying for a new home. It had been sitting in that shed, alone, cold, and feeling unworthy for years. It was built to warm, to make the world around it cozy. To hum as the duel fans waned and sung. To bring comfort to a chilled, weary soul.

This morning as I ventured down the steps to the basement, the smell of burning maple stirred my senses. I wondered… how are you doing old girl? Do you need for me to put a little wood in you? I know how you like to be glowing with heat to warm your family. Sure enough she needed a stick or two. Then I looked at the pile of wood beside her seeing it had dwindled to just a few sticks, so I grabbed the wheelbarrow handles and headed out to the woodpile. Memories of my sister and I surfaced, but this time I didn’t hate getting in the wood, this time I cherished the warmth and comfort that burning wood brought to my soul. This time I appreciated the “luxury” of having a wood-burning stove. I hope I’ll be inspired by her for many years to come; we’ve got lots more stories to share.

{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

Gail Steele January 11, 2011 at 8:40 pm

This sounds so familier. I have stories similer to yours. It is so relaxing now to reflect back on hard times I thought I had years ago. Sarah you are a wonderful writer. Keep up the good work.

Starr Poplin January 12, 2011 at 9:15 am

We sure do share the “red thread” of life. I have all those same memories, except I never had a sister; it was my brother. And he would make me “chop” the wood! Thanks for sharing the memories.

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