Cold Bedrooms and the Old Potbellied Stove
by Verna Mull
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My father spent hours in the “woods,” cutting down dead trees for firewood. My brother, Gaylord, helped him when he wasn’t very old. I am sure he was not much over ten or eleven years old when he ran one side of a two man cross cut saw.
I would play in the woods while this was going on, and pick wild flowers for mama if I could find some.
When a tree was down, I piled a few of the little useless branches. At the age of 6 or 7, my help was 0probably short-lived.
The tree was cut into short enough lengths to get it in the door of the pot bellied stove, and short enough to feed the cook stove.
The wood was thrown in the box of an old lumber wagon to haul it home. The road was very rough. I loved the bumping along on top of the wood. It seemed like a carnival ride to me.
When we reached the yard, the wood was all stacked in big wood piles and had to be chopped into smaller slabs of wood to burn it in the stoves.
Gaylord did a lot of the splitting of the wood, and we both carried wood inside to fill the large “wood box” which sat behind the old cook stove. Of course the wood box had to be filled in the summer as well as the winter, but since the heating stove didn’t need to be lit it didn’t take nearly as much carrying.
Loading wood in our arms and carrying it in, became a daily chore in the winter time. Often we had to bang the pieces against the stack, to remove as much snow as possible.
In the winter, Dad always “banked” the fire in the stove at night, but for the life of me, I cannot recall just what that consisted of, as it was always very cold everywhere in the house my morning.
Since I was the “baby, I was allowed to use a potty by Mom and Dad’s bed at night. Therefore, I didn’t have to walk the path to the backhouse.
Gaylord was not that lucky.
We stood by the stove and dressed. Whichever side faced the stove, felt like one was burning, while the other side felt as if we were freezing.
The bedrooms had no heat, and there was no electricity for heaters. My bed room got just a tiny bit of heat, as the stove pipe went through my room. My bed sat right under where the pipe went in to the chimney, and one night it leaked creosote all over me and my bed. It is a wonder we never had a chimney fire.
We wore heavy pajamas, which our mother made. Each of us carried a hot flat iron *(see footnote) wrapped in newspaper.
The iron was placed at our feet, and helped warm the bed, which had a feather bed under us, and blankets so deep that it seemed hard to turn over. I would take a deep breath and then blow it out under the blankets, and believe it or not, the bed finally became cozy warm, and I slept very well.
I am ashamed that today, I am sensitive to two degrees difference in house temperatures. How spoiled we are today.
I am still very thankful for those days when we had less, but really had a home where Mom and Dad seemed to always be there. I did have one experience of not finding them when I came home from school. I was about fifteen years old when that happened. When I couldn’t find them I sobbed and sobbed. I thought Jesus had come and I had been left. Within ten minutes my trauma was over when they drove into the yard.
Footnote: * Flatirons were used to iron clothes. There was one handle which clamped into the rather oval, pointed iron. They were heated on the cook stove and when one got cool, it was placed on the back of the stove, and the handle clamped into a different one, and the ironing went on.
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