Monday, November 12, 2012


I love woodstoves.  They make me think of cozy cabins in the woods, quilts, rocking chairs, country living.  They're pretty popular in Oregon...wood is plentiful and the weather is just chilly enough that you can actually heat your home with one.

Last night we went to some friends' house.  They live up on the mountain where I once lived when I was young, so just driving there makes me feel nostalgic.  We parked the car and ran through the rain and the mud in the dark towards the house.  The door opened and we blew in with the wind...into the welcoming warmth of the dry heat of The Woodstove.  Like a cat coming in from the cold, each guest would enter, shake off his wet coat, and make his or her way to the woodstove...stretching out cold hands and turning backs to absorb the heat all the way to the bone.  We pulled up our chairs around the hearth and huddled there...then one by one, off came the sweaters, back moved the chairs, and finally, we opened the windows and let the fire burn down a bit.  Then an hour later, on went the sweaters, closer moved the chairs, and the window was closed and another log tossed on.  I carried the warmth of the woodstove with me all the way home.  As we drove through the rain and the fog of the night, I reminisced to Jeff about the woodstove we had when I was young and how I would love to have one again.

When I was 13, our family fell apart.  My mom moved, my sister and my brother...2000 miles across the U.S. all the way back to the home of our birth, which was Oregon, where we had family to offer support and comfort.  We moved into a little house way out in the country, on the very mountain I was driving down.  It was my aunt and uncle's house, and they lovingly squeezed us in.  They took one bedroom, my mom took the other, and all five kids bunked together on the back porch, which had been hastily boarded up to become an impromtu back bedroom.  Just four months after living together like that, my uncle got a new job out of state, so they moved out and generously let us stay in the house.  So my mom kept her room, my brother got the back porch bedroom to himself, and my sister and I shared my aunt and uncle's old room.  With virtually no money, we had to make do.  Part of making do was keeping the heating bill down, and that happened by never turning the heat on, just burning wood in the woodstove.  That was fun!  I had always wanted to be Laura Ingalls and live in pioneer days, and now I almost got to!  Yeah, it was fun...until winter came.  We had never lived in the country.  None of us had ever swung an ax.  I learned phrases like, "seasoned or wet," "split kindling," "a cord of wood," "pitchy," and "chimney fire."  I learned that garter snakes loved to nest in the wood.  I learned that even a light brush against the stove caused a very quick burn.  I learned that complaining over having to split kindling only got you in trouble and you'd have to split more.  And my mom learned that chopping firewood took muscle, and that crying when chopping firewood made your muscles weak.  So she stopped crying and she got mad, and, boy, she could chop a lot better!

One day---it must have been before my aunt and uncle had moved because we were all together and I was still in ignorant bliss about what it meant to heat the house with a woodstove---my uncle interrupted our quiet afternoon by bursting into the house yelling, "Chimney fire!"  My aunt jumped up and grabbed my little cousin and hollered at the rest of us to get out of the house, NOW!  So we ran into the front yard and stood shivering while we watched my uncle climb on the roof and do something with the chimney.  When all was clear and we began to relax, my aunt looked at one of my cousins, standing in the yard with her Bible wrapped in her arms against her chest.  "Ohhh," all the adults crooned, "Look what she saved when she ran outside."  Lots of hugs and praise for my cousin, who beamed angelically.  I remember thinking rather sullenly, "She just grabbed that on purpose because she knew she'd get a lot of attention."  I didn't even know I was supposed to grab something to "save" on my way out...I just ran when my aunt yelled to run!

I guess heating by woodstove was hardest on my mom, although I didn't realize it then.  I only felt sorry for myself, of course, as any young teenager would.  She was the one who had to "stoke" the stove before bed so it would hopefully burn through the night (another new word I learned!).  And she's the one who had to get up early in the morning to poke it back to life so the house would be warm for us wimpy kids.  Of course, I certainly didn't think I was wimpy.  And I certainly had no desire left in me to be Laura Ingalls!  Every night when we went to bed, we had to close our bedroom doors so all the heat would stay in the main house, making it quicker to heat in the morning.  By the time we woke up, there was frost on our window and our breath hung in puffs over our faces as we lay in bed.  I'm not kidding or exaggerating.  It is the absolute truth!  Finally, when we could delay no longer, my sister and I would say, "1, 2, 3!!" and jump out of bed, grab our clothes (which we learned to lay out the night before), and then run straight to the woodstove and throw our clothes on top of it to warm them up while we, shivering, warmed ourselves.  Then my mom would stoke the stove for the day and we'd all leave for school and work, only to come home to a cold house and a dying fire that had to be fed to life again.

Okay, so it was a lot of fun to cook pancakes on the woodstove when the electricity went out.  And it was convenient to boil the tea kettle on the top.  And it was nice to keep simmering pot pourri heated to scent the house.  But other than that, it was nothing but a vicious cycle of chop wood, burn wood, get warm, get cold all winter long.

So last night on the way home while I was recounting these stories to Jeff I suddenly said, "I don't want a woodstove...ever."

And Jeff said nothing, because he never intended to have one in the first place!
I'll just keep my gas ashes, no burns,
no chimney fires, and no chopping wood!


  1. It's true, what she said... all true.

  2. Oh the memories you hold. I never thought about all this..I find it so interesting to think back of those days. As Uncle Don and I so enjoy our wood stove, I take for granted how
    "easy" it is to keep the fire realizing more than ever, I only keep it going, because Uncle Don is the one who starts the dying coles, and keeps it stoked up continually. As I sit in the early morning, cup of coffee beside me on the floor, and bible in hand, I too, feel the deep warmth on my back, and the smell of wood burning. Tomorrow, I think, I will reminisce from years back, and not take so much for granted. I now will listen to the ocean outside more clearly, and thank God for the blessings of living on the coast, and loving each and everyone of my family members.
    God so bless you Karyn, for sharing your story. Sasa

  3. Thank you for sharing this part of your "living in the mountain"!Isn't it hard to believe this all happened in the "same life"?