Wood Stove and August Heat

boo1book2The air is almost stagnant this August morning, even though the nights are beginning to cool a bit, leaving a little dew on the grass out front. The leaves are barely moving, as though they have had enough heat for the summer and Twitchell Pond seems to just lie there as if it doesn’t have energy enough to ripple.

It is Saturday and my older brothers have gone; one to work in the woods and the other to help a farmer with his haying. Curt has already eaten his Puffed Wheat for the morning and is out playing with trucks in the dirt. Dad has gone over the field to Gram’s in hopes of getting the latest copy of the Advertiser-Democrat. It seems he has heard there’s an article in there about the Ice Caves he wants to read.

Ma and I have finished cleaning up the dishes in the black iron sink and she declares she supposes she has to bake something and had better do it before it gets too hot . I can’t stand the heat, she says, already wiping her brow. 

What are you going to make, Ma, I ask all the time  hoping it is something sweet. She hates molasses because she says that is all she had to eat when she was a kid. But during the war, we had to eat a lot of it and I still like it. A molasses cake, I guess, she answers as she pulls down her brown recipe book and starts thumbing through it.  Your father will eat that and you know how fussy he can be, she mutters, as she continues to flip the pages. I also know she is making the molasses cake because she has the ingredients and because her molasses cake does not need any frosting.

Throw some more wood in the stove, she directs me, since I am wondering what my part might be in her cooking campaign. Make sure the stick is poked up tight under the oven handle or the oven will never get hot enough to bake this off. 

Down she reaches into her flour tin and thank goodness, no mice this time. I do not want to see a repeat performance of the time she discovered the whole mice family and ran with the big tin, mice and all, with her screaming into the front yard.  I don’t know if she was screaming because she was afraid of the mice or mad because she had to throw away the flour.

What about the oyster stew Dad wants tonight? I ask this rather timidly because the sweat beads are already forming on Ma’s forehead . She has all her ingredients lined up for the cake in the three feet of counter space. Her metal mixing spoon is banging against the metal bowl as she mixes all the ingredients.  She still hasn’t answered, so I guess I had better let the subject drop.

Suddenly, Ma bangs down the bowl, hands on hips and turns and says, did you see your father last night? That show he put on? I am a little thunderstruck as Dad puts on a lot of shows with or without the aid of his Old Narragansett beer and last night there was no beer. What is she getting at? Ma wipes the sweat off her brow with an old towel and says, he wants oyster stew. That calls for milk. Well I will just have to see if there is any milk left.

Ah ha! Now the picture is getting clear; the fog is lifting. Dad goes to bed early and reads his western paperbacks. Sometimes, his ulcers really kick in and he hurts, so up he gets, wanders to the kitchen and fixes a bowl of crackers and milk. He sits there in just his underwear and spoons it in, says he feels better and back he goes to his reading.

Last  night, he was in the middle of his spooning and headlights appeared in the front yard. Now when you come in our front door, turn left and there is the kitchen; turn right and there is the living room and my parents’ bedroom. So if you think about it, Dad is at the table in just his underwear and the front door is between him and his pants, as it were. Ma said, for heaven sakes, Bob, get in the bedroom, there are lights. Then a car door slammed. Dad crouched, but Ma claimed he could be seen through the kitchen window, so in the end Dad crawled past the front door on his hands and knees to the bedroom to retrieve his pants, and Ma greeted the visitors.

So that was the show she is still sputtering about. She goes back to her mixing and says she hopes he has learned his lesson and will at least pull on a pair of trousers before he comes into the kitchen at that time of night. Bad enough the kids have to see him like that. Well, the mixing is done, the batter poured into the pan and she opens the oven, leans down, tests the heat with her hand and face, I guess, and the cake goes in to bake.

She is through with her recipe book so I ask her if I can copy a cookie recipe in it. She keeps the book in a little drawer at one side of her cupboards and treasures it, but says Roland has copied some for her, so I can if I want.

She puts another stick from the wood box into the old stove and glances at the clock. Pretty soon the smell of molasses cake will fill the kitchen and right out the front door.

No time to linger  though. It is Saturday and the boiler has been on top the wood stove since early, early morning heating  to do the wash. I put the treasured recipe book back in the drawer and get ready for the next hot August chore.

A woman’s work is never done.


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