As September winds blow into October, woodsheds should be well-stocked and stacked to the rafters. If this winter is anything like the last one, wood-burning stoves, furnaces, and fireplaces will get a daily workout trying to keep the cold at bay. Although I don’t heat my home with wood, one of my favorite chores during the summer and into early autumn is helping my brother with the wood.
We have a system. Ed blocks and splits. I get out my favorite wheelbarrow, load it up, and wheel it to his shed. There was a time when I never gave a second thought to the winter’s wood supply. In the old days, our Dad depended upon his tractor and a buzz saw. There was no such thing as a fancy log splitter to do the job. As close as I came to helping was walking by the workers and holding my ears because I couldn’t stand the noise. Occasionally, I brought glasses of cold water or cans of Black Label to Dad and Bill Sarley, a neighbor and handyman who helped Dad buzz the wood that was headed for our kitchen stove.
A number of years ago, my attitude changed, and I realized I enjoyed the challenge of working with hardwoods. The first time I split maple and birch was over 20 years ago when I bartered a splitter from a neighbor. I was as green as a freshly hewn tree and had no idea what I was doing, but I wrestled the logs my brother had blocked and ran them through the blade. When the split stack was high enough, I wheeled the wood into Ed’s shed. It was early November and my gift of labor was his birthday present. I had no idea how to stack wood, but I wanted to surprise my brother while he was at work. When he got home, I don’t know if he was more surprised at his full woodshed or at my stacking style. As a novice, I had crisscrossed every stick, unaware such an endeavor was a waste of space and time.
Each year I’ve gotten better at my favorite chore, but one thing remains constant. I never know what will pop out of the woodpile. This summer yielded two brown garter snakes, a green one, crickets, slugs, ants, spiders, and one blue-spotted salamander. I interrupted his nap when I overturned a fallen log where he had been resting. The ticks weren’t a problem. I guess they had their fill of me earlier in the summer.
As the days get cooler, wood smoke will scent the air on calm autumn mornings as neighbors fire up their wood-burning furnaces and my brother gets a fire going in his Heartland kitchen wood stove. Ed’s stove is reminiscent of the one in our old kitchen. His is much fancier than the Hotpoint Mom cooked on, but it brings back memories. Our cookstove burned every day regardless of the weather. In winter, it threw off enough heat to take the chill off the kitchen, but in summer we roasted along with our dinner.
There seems to be a growing trend towards all things country. Magazines abound with stories and pictures from the past, lending a romantic nostalgia to a bygone era. Those of us who lived in that era must sometimes scratch our head and wonder how we missed all the beauty of growing up in the 1940s and 50s. When I turn the pages of modern magazines, I see lovely rooms decorated with lots of familiar antiques, but I’ve yet to see a functioning water pump in the kitchen, an upstairs commode, or the necessary outdoor privy.
People collect items to display on shelves made from barn wood, but I don’t recall any such shelves in our house or displays of butter churns, washtubs, or kerosene lamps. Such things weren’t meant for display. They were necessities. In the early days, if Gram wanted butter she milked a cow, got out the churn, and went to work. Prior to getting a wringer washing machine, Mom scrubbed our clothes on a washboard she plunged into a granite tub. Kerosene lamps were called into use before the REA ran a power line down our sideroad.
There wasn’t one iota of romance involved in awakening to a house that was freezing cold. Like most country homes, ours was not insulated so there was nothing to stop the cold from penetrating the walls and taking up residence in our rooms as well as our bones. Water froze in our kitchen pails, frost claimed our windows, linoleum floors were as cold as ice, and the trip to the outhouse sent shivers throughout our limbs and everywhere else. There was no point in complaining. Living like a pioneer was taken for granted. Whether we liked it or not, that’s the way it was.
Well anyway, my brother’s wood is in, we’re none the worse for wear, and I’ve recovered from the hornet’s sting I received when the weed whacker I was using disrupted a nest on the ground. We have a few remaining outside chores to complete before the snow falls, but what doesn’t get done will have to wait until spring. To while away the winter hours, I’m thinking of subscribing to various magazines. As I look through the pages, I’ll laugh at the pristine homes bearing no resemblance to the house of my childhood.