A Wood-Box Cover That Warmed the Seat

IN my school days, I certainly did have chores to do, and I surely did 'em. The kitchen wood box was mine alone, and not once in my fetchin' up did my mother ever reach for a stick but it was there.

We had other wood boxes. A wee one by the airtight in the west bedroom, but we used that bedroom only for company, and the airtight only in the 40-below range.

Then we had a wood box by the parlor heater, and one in the dining room. I did get to fill those when needed and when told to, which was the same thing.

But the kitchen wood box needed fillin' night and morning. The kitchen was the heart and hearth of the home, and the comfort of heat was a consequence of cooking good food.

Our kitchen wood box was three feet all three ways, and had a hinged cover that lifted back against the wall. When closed, the cover was a seat, and the best in the house because it waas abaft the warming oven and athwart the clean-out. The seat was always warm.

I had other chores, but fillin' the kitchen wood box lingers prominent because of the way I was abused by that cover. As a winter evening settled in, the family would gather in the kitchen. Mother was engineering supper and always had to ''count noses.'' Not too often did we lack somebody to ''stay'' to eat. ''Will you stay, Lettie? I'll toss in another potato!''

''Well,'' says Lettie, ''only because you been twistin' my arm all afternoon!''

I'd get to dump the swill to the pig and maybe empty the drain pan in the icebox, and if there wasn't something, Mother would think a minute. But the wood box was mine, and I got no reminder.

The winter kitchen was cozy. Some homework was getting done at the table, but shortly Mother would say, ''Put the books up for now, and set the table. Lettie's stayin'.'' But before that, I'd get ready to start to commence the wood-box chore.

First, tidy up the box, laying disarranged sticks from morning straight and picking out a couple of pieces of bark for tomorrow's kindliness. Then I'd pull on my hi-cuts, my mittens, my mackinaw, and a muffler.

And without fail, always, I'd tip up the wood-box cover against the wall so it would be open and ready when I came in with my arms full of wood up to my eyebrows. Caesar never planned strategy in his campaigns against the Helvetians with more care than I gave that cover.

All right! Did you ever come into a Maine winter kitchen with both arms piled high with firewood up to your eyebrows? The woodshed was on the far side of our barn, open on the Canadian and Arctic side for laying fuel aside to dry, and a double armful of wood gains weight enormously in progress.

The kitchen door latch I could handle with one adroit finger, even with a mitten on, and I could push the door aside with my boot. Then, I needed a place to let the firewood go.

The kitchen was jolly! Mother was at the stove and had things under control. Uncle Jud was telling again about running down a shote and was getting some good laughs. Lettie was copying a receipt. The books were gone and Norah and Tickie were putting the plates around.

And what do you know!

Gracious Aunt Lucy, who had come ''for a few day'' and had asked me to light a fire in the spare chamber airtight, had closed the cover on my wood box and was sitting there in solemn sovereignty like Victoria Regina about to open Parliament, and I came within a teeny-weeny of dumping my double armload of beach, oak, maple, and yellow birch in her lap.

Nothing so perilous ever happened in the morning. In the morning, nobody ever abused my authority.

Now and then a sister might sit on the wood-box cover to hone a new conjugation before starting for school, but sisters had chores too, and she'd always jump when I came in and lift the cover.

Maybe she felt she didn't want a double load of firewood in her lap. But Aunt Lucy wasn't a sister. She got leisurely down from the wood-box cover she had just closed, taking the time to hear the last few words about the runaway shote, and being careful not to interrupt the merriment in the kitchen she scolded me with, ''John -- when will you get smart and learn to open the wood box cover before you get the wood?''

Every time this foolishness was tossed at me, just about every winter evening, I'd catch my father's eye and he'd wink at me and say, ''Wash up! Your mother's waiting for us to sit down!''

That was just to divert me and keep me from giving gracious Aunt Lucy one of the 10,000 answers to the wood-box-cover remark that I thought up from time to time.

So filling the wood box not only exercised me physically and spared me the after-school exertion of basketball and the like, but it also taught me polite restraint, and not to yell heated remarks at good people who would take offense.

As far as gracious Aunt Lucy knew, I was delighted to touch off the spare chamber airtight when she came without warning to spend a few days, and I didn't mind when she shut down my cover and sat on it. She was only one of the numerous cover closers who helped me grow up into a useful citizen and a nice fellow to have around.

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