The year was somewhere between 1938 and 1949 and we lived in a small rented bungalow out in the countryside near a village with a population of 800 people.
The house had a living room, a small kitchen area, a very small utility room that contained a gasoline-powered clothes washing machine and one rectangular-shaped bedroom.
That was all there was to the house.
The house was heated by a single cast-iron coal-fired stove that sat in one corner of the living room and the long exhaust pipe went through the wall and into a brick chimney where the smoke and fumes were discharged into the sky.
Everyone in our town heated with coal back in those days.
The school where I went from the First Grade through the Eighth Grade had a huge old coal furnace with an automatic stoker.
Besides serving as the source of heat for our home in the Winter, this coal stove doubled down as an extension to cooking equipment and my Mother would often heat dishes she was preparing on the top of it and my Dad made his coffee in an old porcelain coffee pot on top of it.
Daddy’s coffee was thick as molasses and one sip of the brew would give anybody a case of what I used to call “The Big Eye.”
The Big Eye is an affliction whereby those who drink any significant amount of strong coffee such as my Dad used to make would go about looking extremely alert from the severe jolt of caffeine in the coffee.
The coal for this stove was stored beside out gravel driveway outside the house in a large pile of about a ton or two of the soft black variety of coal known as “Bituminous.”
There was no lock and key — The coal just sat there in a pile — and believe me when I tell you that some of the neighbors would sneak around when they thought my Dad wasn’t looking and help themselves to some of our coal once in awhile.
Dad would fire up the old stove until it glowed red which I am sure was a terrible fire hazard but it was never the heating stove in the living room that caught our house on fire. That little detail was provided by the kerosene cooking stove in the kitchen which actually did ignite the wallpaper one day and cause the entirety of the kitchen to be burned out before the local fire department could put the conflagration out.
The coal stove would shed radiant heat which means that if you stood facing it your face would be warm … the front of your body would be warm …. the back of you would be cold. It worked something like the planets facing the sun I suppose.
Needless to say the living room where the stove was situated was the warm room in the house and the rest of the dwelling had to make do with whatever radiation escaped from the stove in the living room ….. which wasn’t much I can tell you!
I used to lay on the threadbare couch in the living room across from the old stove and watch the shadows flicker against the ceiling and the walls that the fire glowing through the window of the old stove would make.
I thought of some of those shadows as ghosts and goblins but the routine of staring at the flickering lights and shadows did have a hypnotic effect and it was easy to fall asleep under those influences.
And if a person became too warm at night there was always the option of cracking a window open just a little bit even though my Dad would complain that doing so was a big waste of heat and money.
But I caught him doing it himself once in awhile too.