Friday, November 25, 2011

The Woodpile

My mama was born in 1937.  She was a farm girl, born the unexpected twin and placed in a dresser drawer because poor Violet and Elcie didn't have a place to put her.

She was a farm girl, so her childhood memories include a tiny runt piglet she and her sister raised in a box behind the cookstove.  They kept Tiny inside and bottle fed him as long as their mama would let them, then Tiny moved out to the barnlot where he eventually became a massive hog.   In my imaginings, my mama could have written Charlotte's Web.  I never ask what happened to Tiny, because I'm afraid to.  My Grandpa was a practical man, and I suspect Tiny became bacon.

My mama (and dad too) are unique; anachronisms in this modern age.  They have in many ways chosen to stay in their time frame, they find comfort and connectivity and health there.  My brothers and sister and I know this; this is why we battle to keep them here, at their (non-working) farm for this time, for as long as we can.  We won't be able to do it forever, but for now it is a gift to them and also to our children.  Once this era is over, it does not return, and we and our children still have valuable lessons to learn from them.

Take, for instance, a conversation between my mother and I right before a fine Thanksgiving supper of leftover turkey sandwiches:

We were standing outside looking over her woodpile, which incidentally, stands right next to their outhouse.

(How many people in America can write these words about their parents?  At times I am embarrassed of this, times I don't want this difficult responsibility, but the older I get the more I understand that I am standing at the edge of what is a passing time.  That does not mean that I think the end is near, for I have children yet to raise; but the time and place my parents came from is barely still here.  I'm glad to offer my children a dramatic alternative to facebook; they get to see and be a part of another world, a different time.  The outhouse itself deserves a post; it has been an insider's joke, a family memory.  My father does nothing by the book - the outhouse is carpeted wall to wall.  Even at 87 years of age my father takes himself outside in the middle of the winter to use the "facilities."   He insists that the children use it too; they are modern little wimps, but much more compliant than their mother.)

So, mom and I circle the woodpile, discussing the merits of the different types of wood, deciding which row to carry from next.  Four of my children dance around us (the 9, 7,5 and 3 year olds,) ready to help Grandma carry wood.

Mama loves a well-stacked woodpile, one that won't topple over on you in the dead of winter when you're scrambling for a good log that will burn for hours.  My sister is the best stacker; I'm always too haphazard.  I just want to get the job done.  Mama jabs her finger at a particular log, pointing out that this is just the type she will need.  It's a hardwood, properly seasoned, and it will provide a nice, long, steady heat.

I grew up this way, but I'm still amazed at my mothers organic knowledge.  She just *knows* things systemically, from doing them for a lifetime.  She doesn't know Lady Gaga (wait, I take that back.  She does, and she's appalled....) but she knows things.

She knows about every plant and tree, about when the forsythia and dogwood will bloom, and how many weeks of cold weather will come after that.  She doesn't observe the weather, she feels it.  What to do with each type of flower bulb, how to save every seed.  She doesn't have to think about it, and I wonder, how many daughters are having discussions today with their mothers about the virtues of various logs in the woodpile and which type of wood to burn for differing uses (heating vs. cooking, for instance,) and how best to stack a woodpile on Thanksgiving day?  It's strange, I'll admit, but I'm glad to receive it and to offer it to my children while they scamper nearby.  There are many things I can not give them, ways that I fail them regularly, but my husband and I give them this for this time.  To gain insight and natural wisdom like this, in an era where natural knowledge has largely been forgotten?  Priceless and worth the extra work it takes to gain it, we think.

So we watch and learn another lesson, balancing the old and the passing with the young and the emerging.  Mama stands at the woodpile, handing each child a carefully chosen log to carry to me, where I will stack it underneath the overhang of the shed.  It's just a few steps from her kitchen door.  We make short work of a job that would take many trips for mama, and the kids laugh and run all the way, happy to be useful and to see their work stack up.  They will enjoy pressing their backs to the woodstove on their winter visits to Grandma and Grandpa's farm.


  1. THIS kind of post is why I hope personal blogs stick around awhile.

  2. Sara, I don't always know how to post things like this. It's so different from the world most of us live in. As it is, I can scarcely stand to breathe when I read it. Actually, I can hardly stand to embrace each day - it's bitter sweet. I don't want to miss a thing, but to hold it close and think it thru and write about it and remember it makes me realize even more how quickly it will pass.

    It' I love it. :)

    Thanks for reading.

  3. What wonderful moments, Holly. Thank you for sharing.

    I have this fountain of knowledge in my grandmother, but she is failing quickly with Alzheimer's. It saddens me to know that my children will miss out on living and learning from her. What a blessing your children are gleaning from your parents!

    Jenn in NH

  4. That's so sad, Jenn. My Grandma had Alzheimer's too. I am so sorry. :( You will have to teach them what you know.

  5. Your mom sounds like a wonderful person.

  6. Beautiful post. These are memories I have of my grandparents. Like stepping back in time for sure! But when my grandfather died my grandmother married a gentleman from "the city". Indoor plumbing, a MICROWAVE. It was so fun to see her blossom from a tired, overworked housewife to a bubbly, evangelizing firecracker! Love these posts. Could you post a picture of the carpeted outhouse? (: I can't possible imagine how that would look! Debbie

  7. This is lovely Holly. :) So much wisdom and love here. I think it's neat that your mom just knows things. That's what experience teaches! :D And I think it's great that you and your siblings are doing all you can to keep your folks in their home. So many of us today just dump the old folks off at the old folks home.

    I'm totally with you on the outhouse thing, but I'd love to hear the story one day. :)