THROUGH THE WOODS: Fall Chores

MY MATERNAL GRANDMOTHER, “Gram,” was a wonderful person. She may not have had much formal education, but she was very good at running her household, and knew how to do all kinds of practical things. Since the farm income and family survival depended on the animals and barns, emphasis was on them and a lot less on the house. If something needed to be repaired she would get out her kitchen tool kit from its drawer, get the jar of nails and screws and take care of it. In the process I learned from her and took over some things she could no longer do. She had arthritis and a bad knee, so I did what I could to help her.

She was only a mile from our farm so I spent a lot of time with her and she in turn was our baby sitter and often helped my mother. When we got to her house she had a list of chores we were asked to do. As I got older the chores got more involved. In fall we had to prepare for winter. There were a dozen or more large trees around the house so there were almost endless sessions of raking and piling leaves. My grandfather, “Gramp,” joined us and it was a fun time. Our reward was making giant piles of leaves and jumping or tunneling into them, usually accompanied by the black cocker spaniel. I think she enjoyed it more than we did. Nothing ever went to waste so we used baskets to move and place leaves all around the old farmhouse foundation. It was good “organic” insulation and boards held them in place until spring. We carried cases of canned goods into the kitchen pantry, 5 lb. bags of sugar plus at least 25 lbs. of flour for the big crock with the wooden lid.

Home grown potatoes and other root vegetables, the vinegar barrel and other foods went into the cool cellar. My uncle Harold and grandfather sawed up trees from the woods which were piled up in the old carriage barn just west of the house. This building helped shield the house from the persistent west wind and some of the drifting snow. It was a snug structure so it was a more comfortable place to split wood and kindling for the kitchen wood stove than being outside.

Kerosene was the modern fuel for heating the house. I have a long relationship with kerosene. My mother said our old farmhouse had a kerosene heater near the kitchen. I was about a year and a half old and while crawling around got myself into big trouble. Mom discovered me sitting in the drawer container of kerosene at the bottom of the stove. What was I thinking? She snatched her kerosene soaked child to safety and wondered how I ever got the drawer open, then thanked the Lord I hadn’t caught fire. I don’t know if this was the attraction, but I like the smell of kerosene.

Anyway, back to my grandmother. When she thought I was able she taught me how to clean the burner of her big living room kerosene stove. This was routine maintenance for the winter. She had it all organized like a surgical procedure. Several layers of newspapers were laid around the cold stove. The top grate came off, and the kerosene feed line shut off at the back. The burner unit was removed and I sat on the floor while Gram looked on from her chair. The burner was dismantled and each piece was scraped and rubbed clean with old rags. The parts were laid out in order for reassembly. Then all went back together and the kerosene line opened again. It was clean but I was always a mess and again smelled of kerosene. Papers and soot went outdoors for disposal or burned in the shop stove. While there I used gasoline to get most of the black, greasy soot off my hands. My poor skin was somewhat restored with Lava soap and some Watkins hand cream.

Today I have a portable backup kerosene heater in the basement and so far have been able to avoid using it. Now I have the outdoor water faucets shut off, call to have the oil furnace cleaned and the generator serviced. The wind takes care of the leaves and over time blows them over the bank and down the hill. Modern life is good.

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