Fuel Assistance For A Very Cold House

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THIS politician said he'd work to get fuel assistance for the elderly, and while the notion appeals to me, I found myself considering the way things were before the politicians began running up the public debt.

In the house where I grew up, a big ancient mariner's home built by shipwrights rather than carpenters, we enjoyed the luxury of two living rooms. The one on the front of the house, with a view of the seringa bush and the horse-chestnut tree, was called the front room at times and the sitting room or parlor at others, and was available for comfortable purposes, roughly, from the first of a reluctant June to the middle of a lingering September - what the old-seed folks called the heated term.

Otherwise, we lived in the kitchen, which looked upon the clotheslines westerly and easterly toward the snowbanks over the rhubarb patch.

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The kitchen was abaft the dining room, and handy to the pantry and the back hall. The back hall housed the icechest, but we didn't take ice during the winter. The big convenience in the kitchen was the Modern Clarion range, cast in Bangor by the Wood & Bishop Foundry for down-Maine homes such as ours.

We had a furnace. It was a mighty monster "down sulla" and it burned anthracite. It held up the house with great bulgy ducts, like a pudgy octopus, through which the liars who built the thing said the genial heat would flow to give the dwelling gracious comfort.

By closing all the registers except the one in the upstairs bathroom and opening the dampers, it was possible to get the bathroom almost warm if we lit a kerosene heater as well and waited long enough. The weekly family ablutions followed. Because it might "blow up," the kerosene heater could never be left unattended, and I was terrified lest I be alone with it when the catastrophe struck. Mostly, the furnace suggested a candle which has just been snuffed.

So when fall wrought toward a frost, we closed the door into the dining room and wintered in the kitchen, where the Modern Clarion kept us cozy with nonpolitical firewood from our own beech ridge. Sometimes in the long hours of a Maine winter's night the stove would cool down, but there would still be embers at daylight, and a handful of kindling would rouse things so the oatmeal double-boiler would be bubbling in minutes. I was a man grown before I knew there could be any breakfast without oatmeal.

We were four children, plus Mom and Dad. My father's Uncle Levi also lived with us, and so did my mother's maiden aunt, Mary Alice. We also had an orphaned cousin, a child, with us, and then Grammie Curtis. Grammie Curtis wasn't our grammie - she was a widowed neighbor who had no place to go, and she adopted us and moved in, gaining a family by "making herself useful."

She was my mother's alter ego, and besides household chores, including cooking, she "nannied" us young'ns and was soon telling me which of my three neckties to wear on school days. We were respectful to Grammie Curtis, and always careful to show it.

In this company, then, we passed our winter evenings in our "winter" living room - doing schoolwork, reading, making fudge or pulling taffy, doing fancywork, and one winter I whittled a wooden chain from a basswood board. Grammie Curtis liked to tat, which she could do without watching, and Uncle Levi would have his feet up on the hearth of the stove, reading a western pulp with our old tomcat on his thigh.

At bedtime, each of us childers would take his bed-warmer stick of hot beech wood from the oven, wrap it in a towel, and pass from the tropical kitchen into the Greenland of upstairs. We knew the kitchen would be warm next morning.

Grammie Curtis would dish the porridge, and tell us to eat up - "It's 10 below out there, and two miles to school!" True, and the bright morning air would sear our lungs when we stepped out onto the "back piazza" and started off into the snowbank to trudge to school.

I was no politician then, and neither am I now, but I was in charge of fuel assistance - for young and old.

As the big boy of the family, I had to fill the woodbox when I got home from school.

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