It was an annual ritual. We did not notate it on a calendar. There were no alarms set to remind us. We just inherently knew when it was time.
At the first slight tinge of cool air, Dad turned to his favorite son and said, “It’s time.”
Dad was a man of few words.
Dad’s favorite son knew what he meant. It was time for us to set up our wood burning stove. Winter was coming!
Three months earlier, we began the process of preparing for winter. Dad and I took to the woods to find the perfect oak tree to provide our family warmth for the upcoming winter season. Never mind the fact it was ninety-five degrees outside. Winter came every year, eventually. Wood provided the only heat for our smallish, two bedroom and one bath home. We had no central air and heat. We had no gas stove.
Once Dad found the right tree, he broke out his McCullough chain saw. Dad spent hours sharpening the chain, tuning the motor and was now ready for action.
It was a thing of beauty actually; Dad, cranking the crankcase, revving the motor, and then cutting that mammoth, sky high, proud oak tree.
Dad was careful to inform me exactly where he planned to land the tree. There was strategy involved and he explained his reasoning and how he planned to achieve his goal. He told me where to stand for my safety. Once Dad determined the landing location, the challenge was on.
That saw began to whine in a sing song manner, controlled by his trigger finger. Smoke bellowed as the tree refused to go down without resistance. Dad used a series of strategic cuts and wedges to land the tree perfectly, with the skill equal to any surgeon, precisely where promised.
Thwack! The tree landed with such force the ground actually shook below my feet. It always made my heart skip a beat at the sheer force of something that majestic landing next to me.
Yes! That’s what I’m talkin about. “He’s MY Dad,” I said to myself, as my chest nearly burst open with pride.
Not that he wasn’t already, but Dad became even more of my hero as I believed he had super powers tucked under his trusty work hat.
Now, the real work began. Dad cut a small stick about thirty inches long. It was my job to hold the stick on the side of the fallen tree. Dad used that to know how long to cut the wood.
Over and over we repeated the measure and cut process until we cut the entire tree and all its limbs to the desired length.
Next, we loaded the bed of Dad’s truck and hauled the logs home. Many times, it took several trips.
Once home, we split and stacked the sticks of wood. Snakes loved this instant shelter.
To say we stunk to high heaven once we finished was an understatement. Mosquito bitten, tick laden, tree limb scrapes bleeding and sawdust stuck to sweat, we were a sight to see. I loved spending time with Dad and being his helper.
Setting up the trusty stove was easy. Dad and I brought it from the barn into the house. The chimney was about eight inches in diameter, We assembled and hooked it into the ceiling, where a pipe carried the smoke out the top of our house.
This stove only performed for a few months out of the year, but boy did it perform. Once we made our first fire of the season, we usually had a perpetual one for the entire winter.
Rear ends automatically migrated to this stove. Visitors just naturally lined up around it. Early morning wake ups started with a rear end backed up to it or hands rubbing together over it. One only touched it once and the lesson was learned to keep a proper distance.
Mom sometimes got creative and used it to hurry along the drying process of clothes. Many times we threw peanuts in a pan and parched them on top of it.
My job was to keep firewood available on the porch for the perpetual fire. Reinforced strictly in my head, we were never to run out of firewood. I believe it only happened once, as I learned the literal meaning of going behind the wood shed.
The wood stack was only about forty yards from our front porch. You would have thought it was a mile as I carried on and on about performing this simple task of bringing in the wood. I despised doing it.
I always played until dark, dreading and delaying the dastardly duty. Once the dark descended upon the woodpile, visions of curled-up snakes landing in my hands as I grabbed the sticks, conjured in my mind.
After reading the Legend of Sleepy Hollow, I promise I saw the headless horseman every evening at dusk for a month, just on the other side of the pile. Let’s just say I did not tarry long at the woodpile upon that shadowy image.
Being a young worrier, several things bothered me about the stove. The number one bother was Santa Claus. How in the world would he possibly be able to come down that small pipe?
Second, if he made it down the pipe, would he hold back some of my toys because I made such a fuss over having to bring in the wood with those snakes and the headless horseman looming.
“Don’t worry. We will just leave the door unlocked for Santa,” Mom promised me.
I wasn’t so sure about that as, in my mind, Santa had to come down a chimney. Besides, we never locked our door, so this was certainly not a special jester for Santa. Anyway, the Santa dilemma was about to get resolved.
We had a small coal shovel that was used to clean out the ash from the stove. At Christmas, we always got firecrackers to celebrate the festive occasion. Mom would give me and my friends a shovelful of hot coals to use for lighting our firecrackers.
At the ripe old age of eight, a milestone happened in my life. While shooting firecrackers with my cousin, a shovel of coals at my feet as my witness, my cousin informed me there was no such thing as Santa Claus. It rocked my world! But at least I now had one less thing to worry about with Santa getting stuck in our chimney pipe.
To this day, any time I see a wood stove, I think of my Santa discovery and losing some of my childhood innocence.
Today, I have an app to control the heat in my house. With just the push of a button on my phone, I can do the equivalent of the chores Dad and I did together over a six-month period; cut, haul, split, bring in, light, and burn the wood.
I’m glad this app wasn’t around when I was young. I sure liked the time I spent with my superhero Dad and the memories we made together.
But the snakes and the headless horseman? Not so much.