LAUREL COUNTY, Ky. — When we first moved to Charlie Brown Road, here in the Lowell Branch suburb of Paint Lick in ’97, I could walk out on the front porch this time of year and smell wood and coal smoke on the air because several of my neighbors heated their homes with either one or a mixture of both fuels.
Step out late in the day and the wonderful aromas of chicken and/or pork chops frying and cornbread or biscuits turning brown would be mingled with or carried along on the smoke because someone had let the kitchen get so hot she had to crack a window open. I say she because I don’t believe there’s a man living within five miles of Charlie Brown Road who can fry or bake stuff and make it smell that good.
Well actually, Charlie Gruen could probably pull it off, but he lives too far downwind for me to ever be able to smell his cooking.
I guess a few of my neighbors still heat with wood now and then but not enough to notice. And all the cooks must be keeping their windows closed these days as well. It’s a change that’s taken place in just the last few years. What used to be an absolute necessity is now considered a luxury for those with fireplaces or a bow to nostalgia for folks who still have a wood burner stove.
Loretta and I heated with wood and coal until we bought this place. Our last rental had a Fischer Mama Bear in the basement and most weekends this time of year saw me and Junior Helton in the woods armed with chain saws. We’d do a load of hickory and oak for me and one for him and we’d often make stacks of wood to haul later. It was impossible to saw too much wood because sooner or later it was gonna get hauled.
Our house on 52 saw both Jennifer and Chris through most of their school years. We had vents in the floors of five rooms down stairs and a door into the basement let heat rise into the stairwell that kept three rooms upstairs warm most of the time and we had electric baseboard heaters throughout the house that seldom kicked on. Old Mama did all the heat work but I did most of the heavy lifting and I am honest enough to tell you that I don’t miss a second of it. Even though I’d do it all again if it would bring Junior back.
When I was growing up it was mostly all about coal. About ten buckets each night to keep two stoves and a big fireplace going. And there was no electric back up. Until I was in high school we had to cook and bake on a coal fired stove.
A teacher once asked who had running water in their homes and brother Keeter stuck his hand up even though everybody in the school knew that we nor anybody else had indoor plumbing.
So the teacher, Miss Ison, asked, “Are you sure about that Keith?”
Ketter replied, ”I’m plumb shore.”
So the teacher asked him to tell us how it worked.
Keeter said, “ You run out to the well and draw a bucket full and you run it back in the house.”
She laughed so hard that she forgot to give him a paddling for lying, but Ketter didn’t think it was all that funny.
So I guess you could also say we had running heat. Because many a time I’ve had to fire up a carbide light, run out to the coal house and run a bucket of coal back in after midnight because the fire in our bedroom had died down and the feather bed had gotten too cold to sleep in.