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Stories From Early Years


When the Heater Came Down

I remember the humid day Father said, "I think it's warm enough. We can take down the heater." No sooner were the words said than Mother and I ran for the stack of newspapers we had been saving for the occasion. We covered everything in the room. A kitchen chair was set in front of the flue into which the stovepipe fitted. Father got an empty coal bucket and the soot scraper, and then climbed onto the chair.

Carefully he removed the first joint of the long stovepipe. He handed it to Mother, who ran to the backyard with it and shook the soot into the ash pit. Joint after joint came down. Mother and I took turns running them to the backyard, trying hard not to spill any soot along the way.

When the final joint was down, Father took the scraper and pulled soot from the black tunnel into the coal bucket again and again until no more soot came out. Then he took the bucket of soot to the ash pit as well.

When he returned, he climbed back onto the chair and placed the flue cover over the yawning hole. How pretty it looked, with the purple pansies on it -- and how big the room looked after the heater had been lugged out to the shed, where it would spend the summer.

Then it was Mother's turn. "Roll up the carpet. Take it out and hang it on the clothesline. Then get the rug beater and start using it."

That big old beater was heavy and awkward. Beating the rug with it was difficult, but it did make the dirt and dust give up their hold.

Curtains had to come down to be washed and pinned to the curtain stretchers. All around the four sides, the wet curtains had to be pinned to the stretchers and left to dry -- preferably in the sun.

Walls and woodwork had to be washed. Windows were washed with vinegar and rubbed with paper until they sparkled. The floor was mopped. The furniture was polished. Papers were laid on the floor three deep before the beaten rug was brought back in.

The curtains were hung in place, starched stiff and Fels-Naptha clean. Then the furniture was returned to its accustomed place; the pictures were hung; and the taboret, with its marble top, was placed close to the door.

Father and I dropped onto the porch swing. Mother stood in the middle of the clean room, smoothing her apron as she sized up the day's work. No words were uttered, but how plainly her expression said, "This is my home, and it is good."
-- Originally published in May 1980.

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