In winters before we left DeKalb, Illinois, radiators clanked and hissed warm greetings, fed by the coal furnace in the basement of the parsonage on Grove Street. After Daddy answered “the call” to a Southern Baptist church in rural Georgia, we learned of different kinds of heat, the kind from potbelly stoves, hot-humid summers and resistance to social change.
At first we lived outside of town with the Rodgers family, smack dab in the heart of kudzu wrapped trees, strips of flypaper hanging from the kitchen ceiling in summertime and a region where white sheets served a purpose other than covering a bed.
Come cold spells, the Rodgers heated the old farm house with a potbelly stove in the front parlor and a wood cookstove in the kitchen, the home of fresh biscuits. Somehow we took to each other.
Never thought much about who got up early to stoke the fires to cook or take the chill off so we could dress for school. There’s always some one who does small so well, it mostly goes without saying.
About a year ago, a friend and former colleague, Dan Russ, sent a poem, bringing with it bits and pieces of my childhood and some unpaid debts. Penance due to those long gone, who woke early to warm more than rooms, to blanket me in prayers which still cover. still stoking my waning fires, nudging me to get up and go on, no matter how tenacious life’s storms.
THOSE WINTER SUNDAYS by Robert Hayden
Sundays too my father got up early
and put his clothes on in the blueblack cold,
then with cracked hands that ached
from labor in the weekday weather made
banked fires ablaze.
No one ever thanked him.
I’d wake and hear the cold splintering, breaking.
when the rooms were warm, he’d call,
and slowly I would rise and dress,
fearing the chronic angers of that house,
Speaking indifferently to him,
who had driven out the cold
and polished my good shoes as well.
What did I know, what did I know
of love’s austere and lonely offices.”
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