Artificial flames trigger sweet memories

Published 1:10 am Saturday, January 23, 2016

The rainy, dreary weather or just pure laziness made me want to curl up in my recliner with Little Girl, my dog, instead of doing something useful. I got up and turned on the little artificial fireplace heater. I sat back, warmed by the heat it produced, and mesmerized by the flickering flames.

Somehow, it reminded me of the warmth from the big old cook stove in my grandmother’s house. Her kitchen was where everyone congregated when the family visited. Her stove was a monster of a coal stove with a water heater on the side and a bread warmer on top.

My grandmother, with her long grey hair pulled in a tight bun and an apron tied around her waist, scooped flour out of a built-in bin in a kitchen cabinet. She used a rolling pin my granddaddy had carved from a solid piece of wood to roll out her biscuits and pie crusts. While she bustled around the kitchen frying chicken, making gravy, and mashing potatoes by hand, she joined in the conversation around her. After the table was set and laden with delicious food, we all took our places and filled our plates. The loud joking, laughter, and tall tales shared as we enjoyed our meal fascinated me. Grandmother sat back and allowed my aunts to wash dishes and clean up the kitchen.

I don’t know who enjoyed their visitors more, Grandmother or my granddaddy. They both rushed out to the cars to greet and hug everyone who arrived. If anyone paid them an unexpected visit, my grandmother declared she knew someone was coming because she said, “My nose has been itching all morning.”

My granddaddy was an early riser. When we spent the night, he delighted in knocking on all the bedroom doors, shouting “It’s time to get up!” He loved to tease my mother, Ivra, saying at my parents’ door, “Get up now, Ikey!” None of the visitors wanted to roll out so early. They had stayed up late talking and reminiscing. During the winter, they banked the bedroom fireplaces every night. Grandmother heaped our beds so high with quilts and blankets I could hardly turn over. Sometimes we went to bed with heated towels wrapped around our feet to keep them warm.

My maternal grandmother had one of those big coal stoves in her kitchen that also did double duty for cooking and warming a portion of the house. Sometimes we gathered in her small kitchen while she cooked, too. During our spring and summer visits, the adults sat and chatted on the front porch in straight-backed chairs. Every year my grandmother’s pear trees were so burdened with fruit that it looked like the limbs might collapse any minute. Insects helped themselves to the nectar of rotting pears that had dropped to the ground.

It is strange how the warmth of an artificial fireplace on a dreary day in late January triggered sweet long ago memories of warmth from a monster of a cook stove.

Nina Keenam is retired from the newspaper business. Her column appears on Saturdays.