I have always thought of myself as Italian American, but I must have some Irish in me somewhere, bubbling up on this St. Patrick’s day.
The Irish are famous for their beautiful sorrow and their soulful appreciation of sadness and loss.
I am melancholy today, and feeling nostalgic. All because Paul and I are getting ready to say goodbye to an old friend.
When we moved into this house, 23 years ago this month, we looked at the big, unfinished, slightly damp basement, and decided that we should put in a wood stove. Honestly, I don’t remember the discussion, or the decision itself. I was five months pregnant and taking care of a four year old. I worked part time an hour and a half from home, too. Just unpacking dishes was a big deal for me!
But Paul’s sister knew someone who had a big old wood stove for sale at a reasonable price, so in it came. First it sat directly on the cement floor, but over the years, we added a hearth and brick shelving. We finished the walls and ceiling of what we now called the “playroom” and the woodstove became the focal point for a room with a wrap around couch and big TV.
For 23 winters, the old guy has cheerfully burned through cord after cord of wood, keeping the house snug in the worst weather. The floors are warm upstairs when he is radiating his crackling heat. The nights stay cozy. We have a place to nap or read when the winds howl and the snowbanks pile up against the basement windows.
Now its time for the old guy to be replaced with a state of the art pellet stove.
It will be so much easier! No wood to cut, to stack, to carry inside. No heavy logs to shove into the raging fire.
It will be cleaner! No ash, no smoke, no wood chips and dirt and dried leaves on the floor.
And it will even be cheaper. Pellets cost less than wood (unless the wood comes from the yard, but that gets me back to the “easier” statement above.)
All of this is good. It is necessary and beneficial and good. The old stove is corroding. We lost his key so we have to open his door with a chisel. His soapstone top is cracked and his face is rusting and scratched.
We are getting older, too, and while we aren’t quite corroding ourselves, our backbones and aching shoulders will be happy to give up the chopping and stacking and lugging of wood.
But today I am sitting beside what may well be my last fire in the big old wood stove. And I am filled with memories.
I remember the time, well before the basement was finished, when baby Matt had a bad case of strep. He and I had been up all night, and the next day we were both tired and cranky. Paul made a fire in the stove, and Matt and I lay down on an old, slightly musty pull-out couch that used to live in the dark basement. The warmth of the fire and the soft clean sheet over us made us both relax, and we slept away the afternoon cuddled in the healing heat of the fire.
I remember the time that I came home from work, after picking up all three kids from daycare. It was dark outside, and bitterly cold. Snow was piled right up to the front door, so we came in through our garage. The house was ice cold; the furnace had not come on because of a frozen pipe. I called Paul, then a plumber. I made a roaring fire in our big wood stove, and the kids and I ate a picnic supper on an old quilt. It felt like an adventure! It was the stove that saved us.
And in December of 2008 when an ice storm took down all the power in most of the state, it was the big old wood stove that kept us comfortable and warm for a week with no electricity. We were able to heat food, warm up water and stay as toasty as we wanted to be. The stove was our hero!
And now his days are done. He has outlived his usefulness, and off he will go to a scrap heap somewhere, to rust away in the rain.
Good bye, old friend! Thank you for keeping my children warm and safe!