Down T'Home

Chattering toenails

By Marion Tucker-Honeycutt | Jan 02, 2019

The last time I saw my Grampa Roy was when he was living with extended family in Wiscasset in the mid-1950s. He was in his 80s, and had left the farm up on Tucker Ridge after Grammie passed away and moved to Wiscasset, making the household a four-generation family.

By this time, I was In my 20s with a 2-year-old boy, living in the Berkshires of Western Massachusetts.

Grampa and Grammie Tucker had raised my brother and me up on the farm in the North Woods during our younger years. A better, more loving childhood, no children have ever had.

The farm up on Tucker Ridge had been build in 1848 by my great-grandfather, Samuel Tucker. My brother and I made the fourth generation to live on the farm. The farmhouse itself was a popular design of the time, a 1½-story rather like the Cape Cod style with a kitchen ell. And a "veranda" or "piazza," as we called the porch. There are still some standing, even here in Waldo County.

Long before furnaces, they had two chimneys, one for the cook stove in the “cook room” and one that served both the "sitting room” parlor stove and the master bedroom stove that was on the opposite wall. With three stoves to feed, this took a lot of wood and work. These farmhouses weren’t insulated and the storm windows weren’t tight. Jack Frost painted on the inside of the windows. It took upwards of 24 cord of wood to heat those farmhouses.

We went to bed warm, but those stoves died out by morning. You really did not want to get out of bed. Once Grammie had the cook stove purring and Grampa had the fire going strong in the parlor stove, the little house started to get cozy again. They got up at 5 a.m. and we kids would wait, snuggled tight in our blankets until the stoves got warm. Then we’d grab our clothes and hustle to the sitting room to scoot in behind the parlor stove and warm up our clothes before getting dressed.

The kerosene lamps gave a friendly glow that added to the feeling of coziness in the still dark morning and actually helped heat the rooms.

Indeed, one time here a few years ago, when the power went out on a Saturday night with the outside temp at 20-below and the power company didn’t hold out hope it would be back on for some hours, I got a bit concerned. My thermostat thermometer registered 70 but I didn’t think that would last for long.

Then an idea hit me. I got my kerosene lamps together, trimmed the wicks and topped them off with oil. The lamps, unlike a furnace, give off constant heat and are much hotter than the heat from a furnace register. You can't hold your hand over them. So I lit up two for the living room, two for the kitchen/dining room and one for the bathroom. These matched the number of heat vents from the furnace. An hour later, the thermometer registered 72 and stayed there all night and half the next day, until the power came back on. It’s a good little trick to remember.

When Grampa Roy lived his last few years with the Tuckers in Wiscasset, it was the first time he had lived in a house with a furnace and he loved it. As he quipped to me, with the famous twinkle in his eye and his ever-present pipe in his hand: “I like waking up without my toenails chattering.”

Marion Tucker-Honeycutt, an award-winning columnist, a Maine native and graduate of Belfast schools, now lives in Morrill. Her columns appear in this paper every other week.

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