The title of this effort comes from a Jack London story about an adventure in the Yukon. Actually there are two stories, one written in 1902 the other in 1908. The plots are similar, but with different endings. The latter story is a popular inclusion in anthologies of American short stories. But that is not what this piece is about; I just like the title. This piece is about staying warm when the blast of winter comes roaring in.
I was talking with a friend from Bonham who lives just outside of town in a farm house built about 1900. The principal winter heat source for the place is a big iron wood-burning stove in the main room. It was raining the day we spoke, and he said he had spent the day before, which had been relatively warm and sunny, putting out hay for his cattle and splitting a pile of bois d’arc for the stove. “You have to cut it and split it when it’s green because it gets harder every day,” he said.
He said that the bois d’arc puts out more heat than “trash” wood, and the coals burn down to almost nothing leaving little residue or ash in the stove. He also said he often uses cedar as kindling. It burns too quickly for long term use, but it makes the house smell good.
I asked if he had any other source of heat for the house. “Oh, I’ve got a couple of small butane heaters, but I only use them to warm up the bathroom if it’s really cold.” Once for the better part of a year, he did his cooking on the wood stove, and occasionally he still does. “Come over and I’ll fry you some eggs,” he offered, and I imagine I’ll take him up on that one of these days.
“One reason I like the iron stove is because I like to back up to the heat sometimes,” he added, and this is a sentiment with which I am in full agreement. I grew up in a house heated by gas stoves — we would call them space heaters today; they had ceramic or clay grates that helped spread the heat from the gas flames. Few experiences can compare with backing up to the stove and luxuriating in the heat until the back of your pants legs got hot to the touch.
In the winter, the stoves burned all night at the lowest setting possible if it was Arctic cold outside, if not we turned them off when we went to bed. My dad would get up earlier than the rest of the family and start the stoves or turn them up. When I got out of bed, I would dash across the room to warm up before getting dressed.
We had gas-fired floor furnaces in a couple of rooms. This was not central heat, and each furnace was set individually. The one in the den was next to the television, and my brothers and I would jockey for the spot on the floor, next to the TV and near the furnace. I would arch my legs over the grate with my feet against the wall and let the warm roll over my legs. We also had a fireplace in the den that we would use when it was cold, and it too offered excellent “backing up to the heat” possibilities.
I think that central heat, with its thermostats and such, work well enough, but we have lost some of the simple pleasures of staying warm.
Happy birthday to Benny Elk of Denison; Carol Trotter Godwin of Sherman; and Victoria Crapo.