“I’d like to be rich enough so I could throw soap away after the letters are worn off”
~ Andy Rooney 1919-2011
The five of us were stacked across the bench seat of my dad’s Ford pick-up truck like Grandma’s potato perogies before Christmas Eve. The rain was steady, making for a long sluggish ride home from Maine. Brake lights reflecting off the wet windshield, created a mesmerizing pattern which coupled with the constant rain, lulled my dad’s girls to sleep. Dad had precious cargo that night, not just his girls; in the bed of the truck was my Mom’s new pride and joy, a cast iron cook stove circa mid 1890’s. On that rainy night, over 30 years ago, I never could have imagined what that stove had in store for me.
I was about 9 years old when the cook stove became part of our family. This stove even had its own ‘crib’ in the house, a massive floor to ceiling stone arched topped niche right in the kitchen. My mom cooked on that stove 365 days a year for three years. I remember something about her wanting us to get ‘back to the basics’, she would put up fresh preserves in the blaring heat of August keeping the stove cranking hot. We didn’t have central air, and when I complained my mom would say “why do we need AC?… there’s a nice cross breeze and the house is shaded well.”
That stove was my nemesis, while it was my mother’s baby. It began to symbolize everything that made my life horrible, after all…. I had to learn to split wood, polish the stove and keep the oven at a steady 350 degrees. My friends were hanging out, going shopping together and learning to roller skate to ‘Dancing Queen’ by Abba. I remember thinking to myself, more than just once ‘we just must be poor that’s the only reason mom would torture us this way!’
I loathed that stove. All my friends had electric stoves; they could boil water for a pasta dinner in a few minutes. I on the other hand would be hauling in a load of wood, patiently waiting for the kindling to catch and then cautiously stacking the wood into the stove careful not to snuff out the fire. By the time the stove was running hot enough to boil the water for my pasta, across town my friends were washing their dishes and starting on dessert, or better yet getting ready to watch Laverne & Shirley! Something else I wouldn’t be able to do, we didn’t have a television. I used to think I was Laura Ingalls Wilder, which could have been very exciting, except God had an odd sense of humor and dropped me into the late 1970’s. If I had a nickel for every time I asked “when are we getting a real stove”, I could have bought one outright myself!
Sometimes it takes 30 years to really see the wisdom our parents had.
This October brought a historic Autumn Nor’Easter, dumping 12” of wet heavy snow, robbing us of power, heat and the modern day conveniences we have all come to take for granted. While my neighbors and friends were stunned and at a lost for what to do, I shrugged my shoulders, dusted off my cast iron pans and smiled as I put another load of wood into my freshly polished wood stove. After enjoying a simple dinner of soup and sandwiches made on the wood stove, Joe kissed me on the forehead and said, “Your mother would be proud.”
I learned so much more than how to cook on a wood stove, I learned how to survive life. To laugh at half baked cookies because the stove wasn’t an even 350 degrees. To enjoy a cold ice tea under the oak tree on a blazing hot summer day, watching the patterns the sun made as it streamed through the leaves. To appreciate a neatly stacked cord of wood, even if it is home to a family of field mice! Most importantly, never take yourself too seriously. I had a great childhood. I probably should thank my parents a little more often for such a good, rich life, of course like all children it took decades for me to appreciate what I had back then.
When we finally did get that television, Andy Rooney entered our family room many Sunday nights sharing his wit, humor and at times wisdom. Well Mr. Rooney, about those letters on the soap. I’ll use the soap until it’s down to a tiny little sliver, so small if it were to slip through my fingers and it would probably slide right down the through the holes of the drain. I’ll do it because I am rich.
Joe and the kids will be home soon, I’ve been thinking about a unique Christmas gift for my family this year. I think I’ll sneak downstairs in my Santa hat and trip the circuit breakers, and get back to basics just for one night!
Wishing you a warm, back to basics Holiday Season.