takes to keep it operating. What I get in return is truly worth the
Like all stoves, it needs to be emptied of ashes from time to
time. As I was attending to this chore the other day, I started to
think of a big, old, black kitchen stove in the house of my
childhood. It had to be emptied regularly too. The family member who
had the assigned chore of keeping the wood box full was also
responsible for emptying ashes from the stove. More often than not, I
had that honor.
I feel like a nanny who has been tending a babe for over half a
century, feeding it and hauling away waste all these years.
Our kitchen stove was important to family life. It was the only
warm spot in our house on cold winter mornings, so we all dressed in
front of it. We all learned to keep a respectful distance from it by
brushing into it and getting burned.
There was always one member of the family sporting a bandage over
an arm or leg because he hadn't been paying attention -- even my Dad,
who generated his own special kind of heat when his elbow hit that
hot, black monster. The air turned blue and the dog hid behind the
couch as Dad vented his fury with a few expletives.
Not long after that red-letter day, I burned my hand on a live
ember as I cleaned out the stove. I remembered how my father faced
the pain and I called that stove the very same names that he had
called it. A hand closed around my neck, and I was hauled over to the
kitchen sink and was treated to a snack of Fels Naphtha soap. And
while I was trying to spit out that awful taste, my mother swatted my
bottom with a big wooden mixing spoon. Smarting on both ends, I
started to wonder where I could find the closest Foreign Legion
Tending a stove isn't a 1-2-3 affair; you have to know what you're
In our house, no one except my mother was allowed to shake down
the fire in the kitchen stove. Why? Because you could lose the entire
fire if it wasn't done right, and if you lost the fire, you lost the
bread that was baking and the food that was cooking on the stove top.
And if you didn't know to bank the fire at night, you would get up