The Woodbox

As a Boy Scout, I eagerly chopped wood for the campfire and loved foraging for deadwood we could burn to cook our franks and beans over. Cutting and prepping wood became more of a regularized activity in Coastal Maine. The Cap’n had a five-acre woodlot, and among the duties, my first wife asked me to assume was to “help Daddy get in the wood.”
The Cap’n and his wife had begun “snowbirding” to Florida years before I came into the picture. So harvesting from the woodlot was not a monumental task. They left the coast around New Years and returned near the end of March. I was cutting their fall and spring heating wood, not wood for an entire heating season. Just as long as I harvested the woodlot in the manner preferred by the Cap’n, he was happy. It was a good experience and not demanding.

Years later, I remarried, and once we had started a family, we moved to the town where my wife’s grandmothers lived. One grandmother lived alone in a vast old Colonial-era house. Need I say the punchline on this? It was mostly uninsulated and mostly heated by an elderly wood stove. While we had been courting visits to grandmother during the winter had required heating soapstone bedwarmers on the stove and putting them in the bed before retiring.
My brother in law had, after a long debate, convinced grandmother to make some changes in the elderly heating systems, but the house still needed voluminous amounts of wood to heat. Grandma was a true Yankee; the change came hard.
When the in-laws moved to Virginia, I assumed many of the duties for assisting grandma with heating. I stacked purchased cordwood, did almost all the splitting, and made sure that her kitchen wood box was always full. When her “wood guy” proved unreliable, I began to cut in the woodlot until we found someone reliable. Since I was a New York city boy who relished the country life, I did not find these tasks distasteful.
Besides, there were the Hermits and tea.
On a snowy winters morning, after splitting, stacking, and wood box filling, there is nothing so enjoyable as sitting in front of an old wood stove with your favorite grandmother sipping tea and eating freshly baked hermits. Granma was the daughter of a minister and had grown up in lumber camps and other Northwoods locations in Vermont, wherever the ministry had taken the pastor and his family. She had some incredible stories to tell. It had been a life that required more than a bit of hardihood to be successful. It was well worth the admission cost to sit while my jacket and gloves dried by the stove, sip, eat hermits, and listen.
Grandma has been gone now for many years, but on winters days when I am splitting and filling my wood box, I have urges to return to those days.


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