The Heaterola

I’ve been thinking about writing my personal history.  This is not just wishful thinking; I have had this on my to do list now for about 20 years! How can I begin to squeeze my whole life onto a few pages my posterity will treasure? This is definitely not an easy task. In fact, it is overwhelming to think about it.

I just hope no one laughs at the way I write. I am not a gifted writer, and what I put on paper will probably sound just like me. I guess that’s what I’m afraid of.

My friend tells me to write about common, ordinary, everyday things, including as much detail as possible.  She says that’s what makes writing interesting, and she’s probably right.

A prominent fixture in my childhood home was the Heaterola heat stove in the front room, a.k.a, the living room.  That’s where the family gathered in the evenings, probably because that room was warm. When Dad came in from doing chores, the first thing he did, before even taking off his coat, was back up to the Heaterola to get warm. Then he would sit in his favorite chair and read the newspaper, or listen to Gabriel Heater give the news.

We had this big radio, about the size of a chest of drawers, which we would gather around and listen to the Lux Radio Theater, Fibber McGee and Molly, and Inner Sanctum. The lucky ones got to sit on the floor next to the radio speaker.

Each fall Dad would buy red delicious apples and store them in a large barrel in the chicken coop and cover them with gunny sacks (burlap bags) to keep them from freezing. Most people like fresh, crisp apples, but Dad preferred them ripe and mealy, probably because he did not have good teeth, and soft apples were easier to eat.

Frequently, one of us kids was sent to the chicken coop to get a bowlful of apples. If you were one of the younger children and the apples were getting low in the barrel, this meant almost standing on your head as you hung over the edge of the barrel to reach the apples.

Mom washed the apples, and then Dad would peel them with his pocket knife. He could peel a whole apple without breaking the peeling! Then we’d vie for the peeling, pick it up and fling it backwards over our shoulders. When it landed on the floor, if it looked like a letter, that was supposed to be the initial of the person we would marry.

Keeping the house warm in the winter was a full-time job.  The first task in the morning was to start the fire. There was this crank on the side of the stove which was pushed back and forth to shake the grate, so the ashes would fall into the pan below. To start the fire, you’d wad up a few pieces of newspaper, lay it on the grate, add splinters of kindling wood, several small pieces of coal, then strike a match to the paper, shut the door, cross your fingers, and hope it burned.

We children had the job of keeping the coal bucket filled. The poker, which hung on the back of the stove, was used to stir up the fire before adding more coal to make it burn faster and warm the house more quickly. In the evening the fire was allowed to die down and the damper closed way down, so the fire would burn more slowly. Large pieces of coal were put in the fire box to make it last as long as possible, hopefully ‘til morning.

Before bedtime, we’d open the hall door and the transom window above it to warm the upstairs bedrooms. It was cold up there by morning, so the favorite place to dress was behind the Heaterola.

I can relate well to this verse my mother used to recite:

When Father Shook the Stove

by Edgar A. Guest

Twas not so many years ago, say twenty-two or three,
When zero weather or below held many a thrill for me.
Then in my icy room I slept a youngster’s sweet repose,
And always on my form I kept my flannel underclothes.

Then I was roused by sudden shock though still to sleep I strove,
I knew that it was seven o’clock when Father shook the stove.
I never heard him quit his bed or his alarm clock ring;
I never heard his gentle tread, or his attempts to sing.

The sun that found my window pane on me was wholly lost,
Though many a sunbeam tried in vain to penetrate the frost.
To human voice I never stirred, but deeper down I dove
Beneath the covers, when I heard my father shake the stove.

Today it all comes back to me and I can hear it still;
He seemed to take a special glee in shaking with a will.
He flung the noisy dampers back, then rattled steel on steel
Until the force of his attack the building seemed to feel.

Though I’d a youngster’s heavy eyes all sleep from them he drove;
It seemed to me the dead must rise when Father shook the stove.
Now radiators thump and pound and every room is warm,
And modern men new ways have found to shield us from the storm.

The window panes are seldom glossed the way they used to be;
The pictures left by old Jack Frost our children never see.
And now that he has gone to rest in God’s great slumber grove,
I often think those days were best when Father shook the stove.

Yes, it’s time I got busy and started I writing something. I guess anything at all would be better than nothing. Our children aren’t particularly interested in family history right now, but I know about the time I die they will wish they had listened to me. I really don’t feel any older now than I did 20 years ago, yet when I think about it, I know my days are numbered, and I had better write something before I lose my senses.


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