Downhome Magazine

From the Old to the New

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In the early days of growing up, heat in the home was usually in one place - the kitchen. The stove was as central to the kitchen as the table, even more so. It was the means of providing warmth for that room and a little for the rest of the house if it managed to escape there. The water for cooking, bathing, shaving, cleaning and whatever you needed hot water for was heated on the old black-top stove. One very large black iron kettle always was used for hot water for everything except a cup of tea. That kettle was shaped so that its bottom could fit down into the stove when a cover (damper) was removed. In our house it always sat in its hold. You had to make sure there was water in it all the time and never allow it to run dry. Watching that old kettle lazily blow steam kept you feeling secure and at home.

We would often toast bread in the front grate. This was accomplished by sticking a slice of homemade bread on a fork and holding it in front of the grate until one side as sufficiently brown, then switch it over. As boys we would also play with the ashes in the front grate. Sometimes, to get more life out of old flashlight batteries we would punch holes in their bottoms and try to stuff in ashes, believing it would help. Whether it did or not, I'm not sure. We would often be warned when playing with the ashes in the front grate that if we did it long enough it would cause us to pee the bed.

The oven was set on top of the stove as part of the pipe was used for the smoke to escape. I believe the oven was double walled with the smoke and heat travelling between the walls causing the oven to heat up. Watching the large loaves of homemade bread being pulled from the oven, reacting to the aroma, and imagining that as soon as it cooled enough, a slice covered in Good Luck butter (margarine) and molasses, make you want to go back. Yes, that stove was a centerpiece for sure. I can still sense the peace and security as darkness began to settle in with the clicking from mom's knitting needles, the hum of the kettle boiling, and the only light for a while would be the glow from the kitchen stove front grate.

Who would want to change such an atmosphere? My mother did. Keeping the old stove clean was quite a chore. There was nothing to tell how much heat was in the oven. You really had to bend over to attend to what was coking because it sat so low on the floor. Its black top had to be polished quite often, and of course, things were starting to get modern, such as kitchen cupboards and ranges. So one day, mother ordered a new Enterprise range from Mifflins. Boy was it different from the old stove! Like putting your hillbilly cousin alongside of a Hollywood star. The gleaming steel top, the enamel over with the temperature gauge, the gleaming white enamel exterior, the large warmer on top and large tank on the side for warming water made the old stove look so shabby that we really felt sorry for him. We had gone modern. We had come up in the world. No doubt about it.

This new gadget, however, changed some of our attitudes. We no longer stood around a friend, we now stood back and admired the intruder. But we knew it was our mother's pride and joy and we would have to get used to it, like it or lump it. My grandfather who had known the old stove much longer than any of us certainly wasn't impressed by the big piece of gleaming steel and enamel. You could hear him grunt to himself and say under his breath, "You won't get any heat out of that. You can't even see the fire in the grate." But he was a great old man and if my mother wanted it, he would learn to accept it. He was usually the first up in the morning to light the fire. He found out the first time he did so in the new range that it could give off plenty of heat. Not only did he have the top red, but the water in the tank that was meant only to get warm was boiling. He grumbled no more on the new stove. The new range proved to be a great kitchen companion for my mother and we learned to accept it also. The memories of the old stove still linger however, but we won't tell the range. He might get his top red again.

Sam Johnson
St. John's, NL

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