Thursday, January 22, 2015


By Beatrice M. Hanson

Our home was large, old fashioned, and in the cold weather, drafty.
It had no central heating so that the four upstairs bedrooms were always icebox cold.
The long living room was heated only by a very elegant parlor stove (my father's proud gift to the household). It stood on its zinc pad, rooted in position by a black stovepipe running lengthwise behind until an elbow made connections into the chimney of a boarded up fireplace. The section still outlined by an impressive white mantelpiece.
The stove was a self-feeder, the top designed in fancy silver scrolls, was made to swing out disclosing a black lid. A hod full of coal could be poured down the central pipe to spread out over the grates. When the coal burned down to gray ashes, the grates were shaken down, the dead coal falling into a pan beneath. Silver bumpers protected one from going too close to the heated sides.
On exceptionally cold nights the family drew their chairs to circle the stove's warmth. Stocking feet caressed the wide silver belt. Oftentimes the intense heat drove us back, but cold drafts from the corners sent us closer again.
Mother moved an old couch to a wall opposite the stove one particularly cold night. When we kids came in from the freezing outside to lie on the couch before bedtime, the heat drugged us into a deep sleep. We were awakened by a firm grip on our collars, and told to “get upstairs!”
It was torture to leave the warmth, and ascend the steep stairs to the cold bedrooms. Oftentimes we raced into our room to fall beneath the bed covers still without removing our clothes. It was not uncommon for four of us to share a bed. The snuggling together kept us all warm.
Another hardship was getting downstairs on school mornings to find our shoes (which we left the night before, soaking wet from high snows, under the stove to dry) hard as rocks, the leather tight and uncomfortable.
It took some time breaking them in again.

Our first thoughts of Thanksgiving came when we noticed the pictured turkeys in our local paper. Somehow those ads fascinated us. We pointed them out to Mother and only then did she admit that Thanksgiving Day was close.
Our dining room table had as many as three leaves, and all of them were used to lengthen the table to sit our large family and perhaps a guest or two.
My Father killed his own turkey. I disliked seeing him bring it into the kitchen, plucked but with head hanging loosely. I would remember when I last saw it in with the flock in the chicken yard.
(My father told us, once, if we flattered the turkeys they would fan out their tail feathers. It seemed to work for each time we spoke kindly, their tails did fan out, somewhat like the peacock.)
Christmas was not spoken of either until it was almost upon us. Then again we pointed out the likeness of Santa Claus. Nothing was promised by our parents, but the mystery of it played on our minds constantly.
The church Christmas party took place the night before Christmas Eve. When the separated doors were opened in the church hall, a large, beautifully decorated tree was exposed with a fat Santa to give out gifts, an orange, and box of candy. The gifts were donated by the Sunday School teachers, and alike, depending on whichever class you were in. We treasured our orange and candy, and brought them home carefully for Mother to see.
Mother was found, as she usually was, after supper, in her rocker close to the kitchen stove with her feet in the warm oven. Usually, one of the younger children was prevailed upon to brush her long, black hair while she read her magazine.
Oftentimes, she kept a candy bar in her apron pocket. We realized it was a little treat for herself and we never teased her for it.
Christmas Eve was just another winter's night. Supper over, we washed and dried the dishes. Nothing was said, but inside we were heavy with expectation.
As the bewitching hour came closer, we picked out our choice of stockings from Mother's stocking-basket. Smaller socks were already hung up on the mantel, the youngest children already in bed.
Carefully adding our own to the row on the mantel, we gave them one last look before starting for bed secretly hoping their limpness would be replaced by the bulging shapes of Christmas gifts. We retired to the upstairs without any nagging from Mother. Once in bed we hugged each other to keep warm, and then we tried hard to stay awake. Soon each was in a deep slumber.
It was still dark when one of us awoke long enough to realize it was morning and give the alarm. With a great rush we all jumped from the bed. Taking our turn at riding down the Bannister, we walked into the living-room hardly daring to look.
The light was just beginning to enter the room, but we could see the stockings, now bulging, with dolls and toys peeping over the tops. Extra gifts were piled beneath.
The waiting was over. Santa had come!
Snows had come, too, and freezing weather. Frozen pipes were expected. Cream in the milk bottles extended out like coated tongues. Drifts covered the fences, but the crust was so hard one was able to mount small hills that covered everything.
Yes, winter on the farm was hardship, but it was also a time of family closeness; a time for cold apples from the cellar, polished red for eating, homemade candy, and corn in the popper. It was chess playing and storytelling. Above all, it was innocent fun, and long peaceful winter nights of sleeping.