When Mother Cooked With Wood

by Edgar Guest

I do not quarrel with the gas;
our modern range is fine;
the ancient stove was domed to pass
from Time’s grim firing line.
Yet now and then there comes to me
the thought of dinners good
and pies and cake that used to be
when Mother cooked with wood.

The axe has vanished from the yard,
the chopping block is gone,
there is no pile of cord-wood hard
for boys to work upon;
there is no box that must be filled
each morning to the hood.
Time in its ruthlessness has willed
the passing of the wood.

And yet those days were fragrant days
and spicy days and rare;
the kitchen knew a cheerful blaze
and friendliness was there.
And every appetite was keen
for breakfasts that were good
when I had scarcely turned thirteen
and Mother cooked with wood.

I used to dread my daily chore,
I used to think it tough
when Mother at the kitchen door
said I’d not chopped enough.
And on her baking days, I know,
I shirked whene’er I could
in that now happy long ago
when Mother cooked with wood.

I never thought I’d wish to see
that pile of wood again;
back then it only seemed to me
a source of care and pain.
But now I’d gladly give my all
to stand where once I stood,
if those rare days I could recall
when Mother cooked with wood.

From the book, Collected Verse of Edgar A. Guest,
©1934 by the Reilly & Lee Co

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

As I have written in other posts, I was raised by my aunt and uncle, apart from my family. We lived in the city of Saskatoon, SK; they lived in a little house in the tiny town of Pathlow. And I suppose we had natural gas heat like most folks would have, but when I’d go back to Pathlow and spend a week or so with my birth parents and siblings, I got to experience the joys of the old wood stove.

My Dad had piled firewood not far from the house, quite a huge stack, as I recall. About as high as I was and maybe fifteen feet in length, full of logs sawn to about two-foot long. Most of these were too round to cram into the stove whole, so my Dad or my brother had to split wood for the stove every few days. I can remember watching them setting logs up on end and swinging the axe to split the logs.

The axe would come down into the log and usually get stuck; rarely could the chopper slice a log clean through at one blow. So he’d lift axe and block together and bring it down again on the chopping block, splitting the log the rest of the way through — or at least a little farther. Repeat as necessary to get the axe all the way through.

The wood up in northern Saskatchewan was mostly poplar a very soft wood. No hard woods like the maple or oak Mr Guest would have been splitting in the Eastern US. He would have had his work cut out for him splitting those logs. Most of the logs could be halved, but some were chopped into thin strips of kindling that would catch fire fast.

The fire in the wood stove went out every night and had to be relit every morning — with very chilly fingers if it was winter. You needed paper and thin strips of kindling to light the fire and were very thankful when it started right away. In winter the bedrooms were icy so children often came down to the kitchen wrapped in their blankets, with clothes in one hand, to dress in front of the wood stove where it was warm.

We have a small wood-burning stove set up in our living room to keep us warm in case our electricity ever fails in cold weather. When the temperature drops to -20 C outside and the power goes off for several hours, you get a mite chilly! So my husband gets the wood stove going to keep the living area and kitchen warm. As the poet writes, there’s something quite pleasant about having a wood fire going.

What brought this to mind? I opened the door this morning to let the cats go outside for a bit and I smelled wood smoke. Somebody has a wood fire going and the smoke is drifting over this way.

I hope! I hope it’s not another forest fire burning in the north.

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Those Old Autograph Books

“Lest old acquaintance be forgot…”

Writing my Nanowrimo story in November, the main character being a girl turning twelve and the setting being the summer of 1957, I was researching various interests and hobbies of the late 50s. One of these was autograph books, so I gave my main character one for her birthday.

I wonder how many of you readers remember the autograph books we passed around among our family and friends so we’d have a memory of them for our old age? I’m afraid this bit of social fun has been forgotten in this texting generation — though I’d be delighted to know I’m wrong and some children still have one.

I had one myself, and so did my husband, and I signed many a friend’s autograph book. The idea was to write some sort of good wish, verse, quote, bit of song, and then sign it.

Flowers poem

This poem was written by one of Mom’s siblings:
“How nice it is to have a friend
who always plays the game,
knows all the faults that you possess
and loves you just the same.”

This bit of wisdom, maybe a forerunner of the “How to eat an elephant” line, has often encouraged me when I feel overwhelmed by many To-Dos:
“Little and often makes a heap in time.”

This advice was given to Bob by his Dad:
“A little said, and truly said,
can deeper joys impart
than hosts of words that touch the head,
but never reach the heart.”

Here’s another encouragement my third-grade teacher wrote for me:
“May your life be like a snowflake;
leave a mark, but not a stain.”

Verses could be silly, like these written by two of my friends:
“I saw you in the ocean; I saw you in the sea;
I saw you in the bath-tub. Oops, pardon me!

“Two in a hammock waiting to kiss
all of a sudden they went like…”
The writer turned the book upside down to write “this…
She drew a little illustration to go with this, a hammock between two trees.

And someone was sure to turn to the last page and scribble these lines:
“By hook or by crook,
I’ll be the last one
to sign in this book.”

To write this article I went scrounging through my box of ancient papers, thinking I could find my or my husband’s autograph books — and didn’t. What I did come across was two sheets of notebook paper on which Bob’s mom copied all the writings in her autograph book, which she’d kept for years. Mom was born in 1908, so autograph books have been around a long time indeed!

Here are a few more from her book:
“There is a pale blow flower that grows
around the shepherd’s cot,
and in the silence of the night
it softly breathes ‘forget me not’.”

“May your life be like arithmetic—
friends added, joys multiplied,
sorrows subtracted, enemies divided.”

“When the golden sun is setting
and your mind from care is free,
when of others you are thinking
will you sometimes think of me?”

If you think of some autograph that’s stuck with you through the years, please share it in a comment.

Meadowlark + quote

The Waters of Babylon

The Friday Fictioneers prompt has come around again, thanks to the diligent efforts of our host, Rochelle Wisoff-Fields and a photo prompt donation from Roger Bulolt. (Please note the photo is copyright.)

It happens that I’m prepared for today’s prompt — though palm trees would have been a nice touch. 🙂  I was inspired back in spring to write a verse from Psalm 137 and stashed it away for the right opportunity. I thought of it when I looked at this morning’s prompt, so here goes:

PHOTO PROMPT © Roger Butolt

“By the rivers of Babylon where we sat down, yea,
we wept,
when we remembered Zion.”

“Sing!” soldiers commanded,
sick of our sobbing. “Sing
some cheerful song from your land.
Stop this wretched wail.”

Sing?
We who’ve seen our toddlers trampled,
our elders left to starve; our maidens
in the hands of these brutes.

Jerusalem, the beautiful city, ravaged;
the temple of our God in flames.
Sing? Not a chance!

“Vengeance is mine,” Yahweh declares.
He will repay in full measure,
oh Babylon!

Hush — the prophet speaks!
‘The fire shall purify but never consume;
the waters shall cleanse but not overwhelm
Jacob, my beloved.’ *

Yahweh has not forgotten us.
He will preserve his people
in the waters of Babylon.”

(*Isaiah 43:1-2)

Gift From the Heavens

Our Friday Fictioneers prompt has popped into my In box again thanks to the efforts of our kind host Rochelle Wisoff-Fields over at Addicted to Purple. If you pop over to her blog you can click on the InLinkz blue frog and see other bloggers’ responses — and even add your own. Tossing a special thanks across the pond to CE Ayr at Sound Bite Fiction for contributing this unique photo.

Though I may find this a hard scene to do as a fiction tale, it’s going to be a breeze for me as non-fiction. The minute I saw this picture I remembered an unusual melon-sized rock our cousin Ron and wife Rose had sitting on their coffee table. It was such an unusual shape and color you had to ask for the story behind it.

PHOTO PROMPT© CEAyr

Circa 1928 Ron and his father were making hay in the field beside Old Wives’ Lake when this smoking ball streaked from the sky toward them. They watched in awe as the meteor splashed into the lake followed by a sizzling sound. A cloud of steam rose. Impressed, they went back to their task at hand.

Then came the Dirty Thirties; the shallow lake disappeared. One day Ron was cutting grass in the lake bed when he found this mottled black rock, seemingly spewed from a volcano. He hauled it home and gave it pride of place in their garden.

Canada Becomes Our Home (2)

Once upon a time in Gallowayshire, Scotland, a man named David Vance took a wife named Agnes Jones. The two of them had a number of sons. Sad to say, David was killed in a lightning storm at age thirty-four. After this David’s sons yielded to the lure of the New world, with its offer of farm land for all. Ontario, Canada was being opened up for farming and it sounded good to them.

One of his sons, Joseph, was now a widower with a young son. Together with three of his brothers and their families, he and son John boarded a ship that took them to New York. While in New York he met Sarah, the daughter of Samuel Allen, and she consented to be his wife and go with him to Ontario.Canada flag

They landed in Oxford County about 1835, took up a homestead, and settled down to raise a family right near his brothers. Sarah and Joseph had six sons and one daughter, Sarah Jane.

One of their youngest sons, Samuel, married a Miss Mary Smith, daughter of John Smith and Ruth (Dobson). Mary had had a mishap when she was a young girl: she’d fallen from the roof of a shed or granary and broken her ankles. According to family tradition, the bones didn’t heal right and she was crippled from then on, walking with two canes in her adult years.

Sam and Mary farmed near Listowel, Ontario and had two sons, Allen and William. In the 1890s Sam and Allen felt the call to “Go west”; in the fall of 1899 they boarded the train for Saskatchewan to claim some of the almost-free farm land. Sam’s second son, William, was only 16— too young to file on a homestead — so he stayed in Ontario with his mother.

That fall Sam and Allen each filed on a homestead near Spy Hill, SK. But then they went hunting and Sam was killed when his gun backfired. In the spring Allen went back to Ontario; this was when Mary learned that Sam was dead.

SK flag

Saskatchewan provincial flag

Allen had his work cut out for him when the Vance family arrived in Spy Hill. He had to fulfill the obligations of his own homestead agreement — which involved breaking so many acres and building a home — plus those of his father so that his mother could get her land title. A few years later Allen married a schoolteacher, Miss Emily Turner, born in Grey County, Ontario.

While the Vances were looking toward Saskatchewan and the almost-free 160 acres of farmland, so were certain American farmers. Farmland was filling up fast in the US Midwest, so fathers with a number of sons were thinking they needed more cheap land.

James Henry Harmon was born in Maine and later homesteaded in Iowa, then moved to  Elk River, Minnesota, where my great-grandfather James Welcome Harmon was born.  James II married Mary Wilson and farmed in southern MN until the farmland was all taken up there. James had nine children already and, thinking of opportunity for his sons, he decided to claim one of the cheap homesteads being offered in western Canada. Just before the start of WWI James brought his family to the rich farmland southwest of the town of Melfort.

Leath Falconer and his wife were both born in Scotland, but they decided to find the end of the rainbow near Melfort, SK, together with their two daughters, Thelma & Rebecca. In time Thelma Falconer met up with Floyd Harmon and there was a wedding.

Their daughter Louise married Allen Vance, a younger son of Allen Vance and Emily Turner. and thus I came into the world 11 months after my brother Jim, followed by four siblings. Born here in Sask; grew up on the Canadian prairie. Love this land!

Canada Day wreath

Thrift Shop Find: A Good Read

Book Review: THREE CAME HOME

When the Japanese army took over Borneo in May 1942, Agnes and Harry Keith and their 18- month-old son were taken prisoner along with others associated with the British colony there.  The men were put in one prison camp; the women and children in another, along with a group of nuns.

This insightful book reconstructs the scene immediately before the invasion, the two years and four months they were interred, and their trip home. If you don’t value your freedom enough, this book is a MUST READ.  With clarity and charity Mrs. Keith details life in the two prison camps, their ways of coping with abuse and starvation rations.  She describes guards, prison commanders and interpreters as well as her fellow prisoners.

In her opening she says,  “The Japanese in this book were as war made them, not as God did, and the same is true of the rest of us…  If there is hate here (in these pages), it is for hateful qualities, not nations.  If there is love, it is because this alone kept me alive and sane.”

Three Came Home, by Agnes Newton Keith © 1946, 1947
Published by Little Brown and Company,  Boston,  MA, USA

Agnes Newton Keith has also written LAND BELOW THE WIND, WHITE MAN RETURNS, and BAREFOOT IN THE PALACE.  Although I haven’t read LAND BELOW THE WIND, I know it describes their life in Borneo (an English colony in the South Pacific) before the war and the reviews were favorable.