As I crawled back into bed at a quarter of six this morning and shivered up against the warm lump of my sleeping husband, I remembered many, many cold mornings growing up in the country. I spent week days –some early mornings if I couldn’t catch the bus at home, and nearly every day of Christmas break—with my grandparents who lived just up the road from us. Their house was a pier-and-beam construct from the late thirties, with no insulation under its oak hardwood floors and heated only with small gas heaters in the kitchen and living room and a fireplace in my pawpaw’s bedroom. It was COLD. To maintain the warmth in the heated rooms, the doors of other rooms were closed tightly and sometimes a towel stuffed underneath to avoid drafts. The main areas affected by this were the dining room—located between the kitchen and living room, and the black-and-white checkered floored hallway which separated the living room from the bathroom. That bathroom itself was very chilly, warmed only by a sunny window on the south side, and I remember slowly turning the old porcelain knobs—anticipating the blast of cold-- and closing the doors carefully and quickly behind me in the chill air. It was a methodical and shocking process to move from one oasis of warmth to another. There were times that the shut-off rooms were cold enough to see my breath in the darkness of early morning.
|Old colander with Christmas village light behind it. STARS!|
But then there was the warmth. Is there anything warmer than a room with a fireplace and a huge sofa with a hand-tied crazy quilt to wrap up in near a bookshelf and a sunny window? The red linoleum floor in its bandana print radiated the heat of the fire back into the room as the clock above the mantel chimed the hour with a single DING and the pages of Reader’s Digest rustled in my hands…I read many books in that sunny spot by the window of that room. Dickens in “A Christmas Carol,” "A Cricket in Times Square," the “Little House” books—snuggling in tighter as I read of Laura and Mary’s snow-drifted quilt under the rafters, thankful for the warmth surrounding me. I read stories of odd diseases(Reader’s Digest!) and strange events and enough comedy features to ensure a lifetime of corny humor…I puzzled over words I didn’t understand and moved on to the next article, content to read my meaning from the context only. I pondered the super colorful and usually abstract artwork on the back covers(these were issues from the 1960’s) and thought of my art lessons that would likely resume in the summer. A perfect warm orb of contentment surrounded me in those days.
The kitchen, of course, was never cold for long. Mawmaw would light the heater and then turn on all the gas burners –one to heat the kettle for the stove-brewed coffee and the other three for heat, and would preheat the oven to make the ever-present biscuits while I watched in awe as she seemed to snap her fingers and fill the pan. She told me of times when the house was full of kids and she made 40 biscuits every morning before they headed out to work for the day. I couldn’t even think then what 40 biscuits would look like; as she talked her fingers flew—pressing the Crisco into the super-white, freshly sifted flour, mixing in just enough cold whole milk to moisten and hold it together, patting the lump of dough into an egg-shape and pinching the biscuits off, turning them in the oil in the pan and nestling them up against one another till the pan looked full to bursting , then tucking them into the blast of heat from the oven till they emerged brown and crunchy around the edges and soft in the middle where they touched and swelled together in rising.
While the oven worked its magic, the coffee was brewed in the aluminum drip pot on the stovetop, bacon was crisped in the frying pan and eggs were dropped in the hot fat till the edges browned and the yolks shone as yellow as the sun outside the window. Somewhere in the activity, grits were boiled and buttered, their whiteness stark against the margarine melting into golden pools that seemed to mirror the eggs in their fried glory.
The food went onto the warm plates and then to the green-formica-topped table where Pawpaw quickly prayed and doused his eggs with a king’s ransom worth of pepper and was finished eating in five bites; a handful of multicolored pills downed with his glass of milk or juice, and he was gone to his man's day. Mawmaw took her time; one biscuit buttered and sopped into the liquid yolks, grits and bacon eaten and then another biscuit crumbled into the sweet-milk coffee left in her cup to be savored with a spoon while we talked about whatever little girls and their grandmothers talk about in the early morning—wondering how mom’s day at work was going, perhaps, or that particular day’s tasks? Maybe we talked about the cat or the cows or the latest wanderings of my imaginary friends. We would finish breakfast and she would clear the kitchen—soaking the dishes in the huge white sink and wiping the table and stovetop, likely simultaneously starting something for lunch-- while I tried to help by washing the dishes and getting distracted with the lemon-scented soap bubbles, or by making the beds, wrestling with the sheets and quilts and flimsy bedspreads that unforgivingly showed every wrinkle I had unwittingly left in the undercovers. They had to be perfectly smooth so that only the wires from the electric blanket showed through, and then NO SITTING ON THE BED because of possible damage to those wires. I hated the electric blankets. They were part of the delicate web of warmth that was cast over the house in winter, though; each part crucial to the comfort level.
|Their anniversary would have been January 8th.|
Remembering all that this morning, I was thankful for the extra quilt on the bed. For the warm body next to me and for wool socks. For the coffee pot that would click on automatically in a few more minutes, and for the memories that warm me just as much as the oven will when I finally go in to wake up the kitchen for the day.