She could work that stove like a fine instrument. There were no controls to speak of, just a damper and a firebox. So all the heat under the burners and in the oven was regulated by adjusting the damper and building the fire or letting it die down.
While she was cooking greens and frying chicken on top she was cooking the fluffiest biscuits imaginable in the oven. If I had been good and gone out looking for blackberries and come back with a batch there might even be a blackberry cobbler in that oven. She would shove pans around on top to cooler or hotter areas and in between would find time to set the table and make the iced tea.
She was first up in the morning and building a fire before the sun peeked over the horizon. Poppa left for work early, sometimes by 5, and got home early, giving him time take care of the garden and the chickens. That meant she had to be up and making the breakfast — bacon, eggs, grits and biscuits — and packing him a lunch.
During the week he ate lunch out in the woods on the job so she was free to do the laundry, weed the garden and clean the house before starting supper. You might say dinner but in those days lunch was called dinner and the evening meal was called supper. For supper there would be meat of some kind, chicken and pork mostly and sometimes venison if hunting had been good. And there were two or three vegetables, most of them from their garden and either rice or potatoes. Dessert was hit or miss, you couldn’t count on a regular dessert but you could always take a biscuit and crumble it up and pour cane syrup on top of it with butter beat into it.
My grandfather liked buttermilk and he’d have a bowl of buttermilk with cornbread broken up into it. I never could get warmed up to that but he surely loved it.
Sometimes now I wonder what Granny liked best. She rarely said and never kept the best of anything for herself, and she always made sure something each of us liked was on the table.
So that stove got busy early and stayed hot most of the day. It was even the way we heated water for baths or to wash the dishes in a big enamel pan in the sink for a long time.
One of my jobs when I was visiting was to cut kindling. That meant going through the woodpile to find pieces filled with rising sap, resin. That wood, sometimes called “lighterd” wood, was nearly orange from the highly flammable sap and sometimes sticky to the touch. It split easily. Just put a piece standing on end on the stump used for cutting wood, tap the axe into the edge, lift and let the weight of the axe just split it right down. You did need to get the pieces pretty small and when you stuck a couple of those in the fire box of the stove with a bit of crumpled paper and a couple of pieces of firewood you would have a nice fire in just a few minutes.
I now see “country” catalogs selling memories or at least a sweet reminder of the past. They offer small stacks of this “fat wood” for sale wrapped in gingham and tucked into handsome little copper buckets to sit by the fireplace. It may start the fire and may have that wonderful smell but I’m pretty sure it is not being cut by scrawny, curly-haired girls like me out behind the weather-beaten house and brought in by the scratchy armload to stack by the stove.