Pen and ink, with a background of old paper added in, for Illustration Friday. My little sister and I gathering firewood while camping (I am the unstylish child in front, and the frilly things around my ankles are denim sock-protectors, although we never called them that – “ratwalls” was the term at our house, while our neighbours called them “dollies’ petticoats”). My mother always refused to go camping, saying it was primitive enough at the house.
When I was little, my mother would sometimes find photos in old National Geographics of ancient rural women standing next to woodpiles as large as their houses, and she would tell my father, “There! That is what I want! Please don’t just chop two days’ worth of logs before you go away for a week!”
The woodpile was at the back of the house yard, under the silky oaks and behind the tall narrow white wooden building surrounded by four-o-clocks which was the outdoor toilet. There was a cradle of starpickets to hold logs while the chainsaw was used, a huge stump which was the chopping block proper, an axe, a mallet and wedges for splitting timber down to a size that would fit in our stove. The cut wood sat in a box on the front doorstep, beside a bucket of kindling.
I remember waking up early in the mornings and hearing my father rattling the stove and emptying the ash box before setting and lighting the fire. He would sit with it and have a cup of tea with a cat on his knee, or smoke his pipe, and wake up before bringing tea up to the rest of the family, and threatening to let the dogs into the bedrooms if we did not open our eyes.
We had to adjust the temperature by opening and closing doors, sliding plates and spinning wheels. Pans dried on the rack above the stove, along with a tin of eggshells waiting to be dried and crushed into calcium supplement for the chooks. Behind the stove was a window, and pardelots nesting in the warmth of the eaves would flutter down and peck bugs (or, my father insisted, ground glass) off the window. Once a cat recovering on my father’s knee (after being rescued from a fall into the watertank) launched itself at the birds and landed four-square on the stovetop.
And from time to time the copper hot-water box in the back of the stove would explode and flood the kitchen with sooty water, in which case my mother, on entering the room, would turn around and leave again until all had been put to rights.