and the Wood Stoves
I grew up in rural Missouri, way out in the country. The Mississippi River was just a few
minutes from home and the bus ride to school in town was maybe eleven miles. Our
creaky old house was heated with a wood stove (furnaces are for wimps). We kept a
wood pile out back and boy could mom stack wood. Grandpa made regular firewood
deliveries in his pick-up (more on him later). Winters meant keeping a fire going and
adding more wood just before bedtime but it would always burn out by three in the
morning. If we didn’t add some logs overnight it was like sleeping in a meat locker. Who
needs a fridge? But no more; in 2006 an F4 tornado carried the entire house away
leaving just a few bricks from the cellar wall.
I played high school sports -- basketball, volleyball and track and travelled all over for
soccer tournaments. We had frequent sleepovers at my favorite teammate’s house. Her
family owned horses that roamed the large pasture that was their back yard. Her dad
would routinely saddle one up to go visit friends in town. Everyone always turned out for
our small town festivals. If you’re ever down that way you want to try the pork burgers at
Mayfest or the fried chicken at the Seminary Picnic. One of my first jobs was cashier at
the truck stop on the interstate. I rang up lots of beer, Boone’s Farm and chewing
My family has had a farm there since the late 1800’s when my great-great grandfather
bought the first few acres. He and his brothers built the old farmhouse and finished it
1905. It’s still standing and pretty much just like it was back then. One wood stove for
heat, no running water or indoor plumbing. Rain water collects in an underground
cistern and there’s a hand crank and spout a few steps from the back porch. Still works
just fine. That’s where you get the water for cooking, washing or bathing. The outhouse
has been in the same spot for as long as anyone can remember and is, uh, fully
operational. Electricity arrived in 1952. There’s a light bulb in the outhouse -- really! In
the spring there’s about 50 acres to plant, usually corn or soybeans. And plenty of old
forest timber to cut, you know, for wood stoves.
My grandmother was born in that old farmhouse and grew up there with her siblings,
loving the country life. Her mom (my great grandmother) gave birth to seven children.
Growing up during the depression and the WWII years; wood heat, carrying water and
light from candles and lanterns was normal and never interrupted their fun. But
sometimes the coyotes, bobcats, black snakes and copperheads did. My grandma had
a wonderful giggle, loved bowling, camping and polka, lived for family and was the
sweetest person anyone ever knew.
My uncle lives in the same house where he, my aunt and my mom were raised. Sitting
on the back porch is the best place to watch the humming birds at the feeder. From
there you can hear country music coming from the shed. Inside, (you guessed it, wood
stove) my uncle will be tinkering away on motors, tractors, chain saws or sharpening
some kind of blade. And my aunt makes the best blackberry cobbler in the county.
When I go back to visit I head out on his four- wheeler and cruise the countryside
behind the house. There’s a dry creek bed and a trail through the backwoods. And the
frogs make lots of noise at a certain time of day.
My other aunt and uncle regularly tour the back roads on their massive Harley. They
ride that thing everywhere. Maybe you’ve heard of that biker rally in the Dakota’s; they
loved it and recommend the margarita’s at the Sidehack Saloon. They biked through the
tiny town of Hulett in the Wyoming Black Hills. The local Chamber of Commerce there
sponsors something called “No Panty Wednesday.” Not sure what that’s all about. And
when not Easy Ridin’ they’ll be squeezing the juice out of some random berry for a new
variety of sweet homemade country wine. Just call them all “Huckleberry,” it’s easier.
Anyway, I’ll always remember hanging out with them at the Altenburg Fair, famous for
the Mule Jump and the awesome grilled cheese sandwiches. No one has ever been
able find out what kind of cheese they use. Perhaps the world’s best kept secret.
Grandpa is 93 and he's a fishing machine. Over the years he’s hooked 'em all: catfish,
trout, bass, carp, sunfish, perch, walleye, skipjack and such. He says Corse’s Pond is
a good spot to catch crappie. He needs an early start to reach his quota because my
family has this monster fish fry tradition and Grandpa pretty much supplies all the fish.
And he needs to make sure my mom’s freezer is always stocked with bluegill in order to
keep the peace. In his spare time he splits enough logs to provide family, friends and
neighbors a steady supply of firewood. The splitter is set up just out the back door near
where the corn rows start and Grandpa can pile that wood pretty high: all meticulously
cut to 16 inches. And he always saves a few logs for his tool shed. You see, there’s a
wood stove in there.
Though there’s one less stove to feed since that 2006 twister I mentioned earlier.
But me, I’d rather just cut hair. So stop by my shop. It’s not way out in the country; it’s in
St. Charles, right in town behind the Jeep dealer. There’s furnace heat, running water --
and A/C. I promise.
Abby from Missouri