The Kitchen, Water and Coal Stove
The most important and largest room in the house, the kitchen was eight by fourteen. It would have been only eight by eight since that was all that was sitting over the basement proper, but the architect (if indeed there was such an animal) decided to add six feet using a crawl space (this is where we stored the storm windows)
There was enough wind blowing into this crawl space to cover all the windows every summer with a thick layer of the farmer's top soil, which had to be carefully cleaned from each pane every fall, when the screens came off and the storms went on.
Mother could not mop that portion of the kitchen floor all winter because the mop always froze to the linoleum, because that same wind now at below zero was passing through our crawl space.
The north wall of the kitchen was Mother's pride. Dad hired a real carpenter to build a set of cupboards from floor to ceiling, complete with a real sink with mirror in the center.
The sink had a little cast iron pump which when you pumped the handle rapidly, brought water up from the cistern. We all used this kitchen (real enamel) sink to wash and brush our teeth using a little wash basin and hot water from the stove reservoir. Since the big enamel sink proper used too much water, it was only for doing dishes.
I can remember when Dad got tired of running out of good rain water which was collected from the roof and run down into a galvanized tank in our basement. After getting rid of the metal tank, he hired men to excavate a huge hole in the corner of the basement and built a concrete cistern that held three thousand gallons (a masterpiece).
This cistern sat three feet above the basement floor and was covered with heavy two by four planking. The front two planks could be removed so as to study the water level, and every time it rained we all made many trips with flashlight in hand to listen to the gurgle and watch the water rise. This good clean rain water was, we judged, fit to drink, and we did drink a little of it until a decayed furry thing that had been a mouse emerged from the pump and flopped into our sink one morning. No one but Mother threw up, but none of us ever drank the beautiful sweet water again.
Winter as I have said was always long, and even though water was rationed scrupulously, our big three thousand gallon monster began to get desperately low before spring.
Dad's answer to this was to take out the cellar window (the one used to excavate the dirt when building the cistern), insert a long chute (designed for coal), and have us boys cut blocks of snow, which we slid down the chute into near empty cistern. This process had to be done very carefully so as not to wind up with a cistern full of snow and no water.
Boiling water heated on the stove was carried down the basement stairs and carefully poured into the snow mass. Inside a couple of days the water prevailed and large iceberg chunks of snow were left floating in our cistern. This meant we could again take out the basement window and shovel more snow. This snow would then melt and turn into beautifully soft water, softer by far than what was coming out of the dam. But invariably there were quite a few weeds that got involved with the snow as it went down into the cistern and these had to be raked off the top.
This task was not as bad as it might sound, because we didn't do it unless the weather was mild. For two reasons: cold snow doesn't hold much water and cold snow would freeze up the cistern.
Enough of the joys of maintaining a good water supply and back to the kitchen.
The kitchen floor was semi hard wood covered with linoleum. A great place for three boys to play marbles when it was cold and the snow was deep outside. I will never know how many times Mother went down or twisted an ankle because of one of our lost agates, steelies, or dibs.
Mother's kitchen was very well equipped prior to the depression. Her stove was a big coal burner with enamel oven and warming door. It stood on four claw-like legs, with an arrangement of six inch pipes and elbows holding it to the brick chimney.
This brick chimney ran right from the floor of the basement through our kitchen and my brother Lorne's bedroom, and stopped two feet above the roof. It was warm to the touch in the dead of winter and I remember hugging it like a mother once in a while.
But back to our modern coal stove. It boasted a warming oven that ran the full length of the main body, as well as an oversize reservoir which held three full pails. The oversize oven with adjustable racks had a large thermometer built in which mother watched like a hawk, closing dampers, opening switch ports, or adding just a sliver or two of wood for a fast correction.
How many times have I rounded the corner of our house after school and caught a whiff of fresh baking? Nothing tasted better than Mom's pies, cookies, buns or bread.
We used to think how lucky we were to have arrived home just when the oven was being opened. It was many years after I had left home before I realized that mother's life revolved around her family, and she planned carefully to open that oven door when we arrived.
I wonder why I so seldom hugged her with a big kiss of thanks every day of my young life. It brings tears to my eyes to realize how much she would have liked that, and how easy it would have been.
Keith, Lorne and Ray in 1932 (3, 2 and 5 years old)
Across the room from the stove was a kitchen master cabinet with drawers of bins that held all sorts of baking supplies and utensils. It had a metal counter top that pulled out for rolling dough, making cookies etc.
Just above this metal counter was a door which when opened, revealed a large metal canister with a spout on the tapered bottom. Above this spout was a handle. This canister held twenty-five pounds of flour, and was mounted so as to swing out above the counter and deliver sifted flour whenever needed. Dad was a very good provider before the dirty thirties struck. Mother had all the modern conveniences of the day.
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