Friday, January 25, 2013

Warm Memories of Cold

I don't like cold anymore.  In particular I don't like it when my hands, feet, and nose are cold when I'm in my own house.  But there's the power bill to think of, so I keep the thermostat down.  I'm just not very happy about it.

My memories of cold, cold mornings at Grandma's house 50 or so years ago and of waking up in Ikie's bed are far more pleasant.  Ikie was my Aunt Lillie, and I have no idea how a childish lisp turned Lillie to Ikie, but we kids all called her that.  I tried referring to her as Aunt Lillie when I thought I was too adult to use such a silly name as Ikie.  She was long gone by then, the victim of a car accident and a blood clot that stopped her heart when she was 41.  But "Aunt Lillie" just wasn't right - I went back to the Ikie of my memories.

Ikie sometimes had a room in town, leaving her room at the farm free for company.  When we were very small, Grandma's bed accommodated Grandma, my sister, myself, and two stuffed teddy bears that were nearly as big as we were.  But as we grew we spread out a little more, and while the living room sofa was acceptable, snagging Ikie's bed was best.

The farmhouse was old even then:  clapboard and plank with a tar paper roof and no such thing as insulation or thermo-pane windows in any part of its construction.  Ikie's room at the top of the stairs did have the advantage of having the rough stone kitchen chimney running through it, though.  The beds were not box springs and mattresses like my queen sized pillow top is now and age and use had caused every bed in the house to sag in the middle.  I would wake up down in the that valley in the middle of the mattress, buried under so many quilts that I could barely move, and with what little bit of me that remained exposed feeling frosted.  I would have to pee.  Desperately.  And it would be too bloody cold to want to get out of that bed to use the chamber pot.  Not to mention that that metal chamber pot would get doggone cold during the night.  So I'd hold it as long as I could while the rest of the house began to stir into the daily routine.  Grandma would be downstairs first, rattling the clinkers out of the stoves, loading them up with coal, and getting them firing again.  And I would wait as long as I could so that chimney in the room began to take the worst of the teeth out of the cold before scrambling out onto the wood floor and plunking my shivering self down on that cold enameled rim for blessed relief. 

By then the smells and sounds of  breakfast cooking would be drifting up.  I'd quickly dress and trot down to the kitchen that was dominated by the big coal stove, the stove from which so many wonderful things came:  fresh baked bread, roasted chickens, green beans full of bacon, mince pies.  And in the winter the most wonderful thing in the world came from it, baked on an old black griddle that was constantly being greased by a piece of fatback stuck on a fork that always lay on the top ledge on the stove.  Buckwheat cakes.  Properly made, properly sour buckwheat cakes.  You don't just mix up buckwheat batter.  As Uncle Lynn would say "You have to let it rot a bit before it's good."  Starter was carried over every day for the next day's batch, and Grandma knew how to let it rot just right.   Those cakes kept coming as long as you were willing to eat, topped with real butter - homemade and strongly flavored, not this weak stuff you get in the store - and a syrup that Grandma made out of a simple mixture of brown sugar and hot water.  On the side would be eggs and thick cut bacon and coarse sausage from her own hog, and thick slabs of the bread she made each week, thoroughly smeared with butter and jam.  Eating was serious business in that house.  None of that froo froo sugary cereal stuff that lines supermarket shelves.

There was one concession to modernity, however - Tang.   Good enough for the astronauts, it was good enough for us kids prepping for a day of playing army, scrambling through the woods, and harvesting icicles from the roof edge.

My bedroom isn't nearly as cold as Ikie's was those mornings.  I don't need as many blankets, my mattress doesn't sag in the middle, and I have three full bathrooms in the house.  But I wonder if I would notice the cold as much if I could wake up in Ikie's sagging bed, buried under Grandma's hand-made quilts.


  1. Thank you for sharing these memories; mine are much the same.

  2. Great memories, and were they feather beds??? We actually had those (and still do at the old home place)...

    1. I think they were just full of some sort of batting.

  3. Lovely memories. Thanks for sharing them!

  4. Thank-You for sharing your bought back many similar memories for me