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

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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.

Vacation Time

by Edgar Guest

Vacation time! How glad it seemed
When as a boy I sat and dreamed
Above my school books, of the fun
That I should claim when toil was done;
And, oh, how oft my youthful eye
Went wandering with the patch of sky

That drifted by the window panes
O’er pleasant fields and dusty lanes,
Where I would race and romp and shout
The very moment school was out.
My artful little fingers then
Feigned labor with the ink and pen.

But heart and mind were far away,
Engaged in some glad bit of play.
The last two weeks dragged slowly by;
Time hadn’t then learned how to fly.
It seemed the clock upon the wall
From hour to hour could only crawl,

And when the teacher called my name,
Unto my cheeks the crimson came,
For I could give no answer clear
To questions that I didn’t hear.
“Wool gathering, were you?” oft she said
And smiled to see me blushing red.

Her voice had roused me from a dream
Where I was fishing in a stream,
And, if I now recall it right,
Just at the time I had a bite.
And now my youngsters dream of play
In just the very selfsame way;

And they complain that time is slow
And that the term will never go.
Their little minds with plans are filled
For joyous hours they soon will build,
And it is vain for me to say,
That have grown old and wise and gray.

That time is swift and joy is brief;
They’ll put no faith in such belief.
To youthful hearts that long for play
Time is a laggard on the way.
‘T’was, oh, so slow to me back then
Ere I had learned the ways of men!