I’m still strolling, are you still with me? It’s always nice to look back over the years and remember, isn’t it? If you’ve read my last post, you’ll know that my good friend, Caz Greenham inspired me to look back into the mists of time. If you didn’t get a chance to read her gorgeous post, just click here and read it. I’ll still be here when you get back!
There were times when it seemed just awful and we wondered if we’d ever get through it. I, for one, sometimes wished for different circumstances. I’m sure glad wishes don’t come true so easily; I would’ve missed some truly wonderful times and people. Because I’m a little chilly this morning, I’m remembering wintertime in our house back in Piedmont, Alabama.
From about the end of November until well into April or May my little Mawmaw would say it a hundred thousand times. “It’s as cold as a dead Dutchman!” Thanks to lots of rain and high humidity, Alabama winters are as mean as snake meat. It rarely snows, but lord that cold gets down into the bones so deeply you could be forgiven for thinking it had taken up residence for good.
We had one heater for our house, so the only rooms with any heat at all were the living room and kitchen. Early in the morning Mother would light the gas oven and a couple of the top burners to warm the kitchen whilst we got the fire going in the living room. At first we had a coal burner. It sat squat and proud in the living room and had a voracious appetite for coal. The coal lay in an oily, gradually diminishing pile at the edge of the front yard. Gathering it to feed the eternally hungry maw of the heater was cold, dirty work that left fingers cracked and bereft of feeling. Oh my goodness, how those hands and fingers ached as they were held over the roaring heater.
Dad knew just how much coal to load inside to get the heater’s belly to glow a soft red that made me think it would begin to melt at any moment. From time to time, even the stovepipe that led through the attic to the chimney would glow. There was a perverse part of my brain that wanted to reach out and touch it. It looked so soft and inviting. And, really it didn’t look all that hot. I’m glad I’d been burnt enough times loading coal into its throat to know what a burn feels like, and how long it takes to heal.
Later, we got an Ashley wood burning stove. It employed some sort of new-fangled technology that allowed it to burn less wood while providing maximum heat. Now, you can believe me when I tell you that cutting, loading, hauling, offloading, splitting, and toting wood is not exactly my idea of a picnic. But, the Ashley gave far more warmth than the coal stove with a much smaller appetite. Still, it was damned cold in that little house with no insulation and poorly fitted windows.
When I was around 13 or 14 we finally got running water inside the very house! No more lugging buckets of water up the little hill from the spring. We boys always said Mother could go through more buckets of water in a day than anyone on earth. Now, we could just turn the tap and out it flowed in a never-ending bounty of water. Cold, cold, cold water…
Of course in summer that icy cold water was a real treat. A blessing you might even say. But, in winter everything had to be heated on the stove in the kettle. I swear, I don’t ever remember a time when the kettle wasn’t on the stove with little tendrils of steam climbing up to the ceiling.
Water for coffee, for cooking, for washing dishes, and for washing our bodies had to be heated in that kettle. That required the strategic planning of a general with our family of seven people.
Getting up in the morning was a real challenge. The bed was so warm and toasty because the night before Mother had tucked us under so many quilts it was quite impossible to move. No matter how much the frigid wind shrieked through the cracks and gaps, we were impervious to the cold. But! Oh yes, but! Sliding out from under the quilts, bare feet making contact with the cold wooden floor instantly dispelled all the warmth built up over the night. We’d run to the kitchen as fast as our feet would carry us, and huddle around the cookstove until the fire could bring a bit of warmth to the two front rooms. After getting dressed as fast as possible, and a quick breakfast of grits and eggs or oatmeal with liberal lashings of sugar and cinnamon it was off to the “big road” to wait for Mr Holder to come rolling over the hill in the big yellow school bus. More on him later.
As I reminisce about those days, surrounded by the modern conveniences I can’t help thinking how hard those days were. At the time though, they didn’t seem like it. Perhaps it was because nearly everyone we knew lived the same way. We hadn’t experienced the joys of central heating and air conditioning and weren’t surrounded by automatic washing and drying machines and other such things. I sure wouldn’t want to go back to living that way now. Would you?