Location: marengo, il, United States

Saturday, June 10, 2006

It Can Get as Hot as

I am about as current as a Franklin woodstove. In case you never met one of those cast-iron affairs, here are some snaphots: they are not what you could call air-tight. They are drafty, creaky, cumbersome and old-fashioned things, and they tend to crack easily in the worst spots. None have ever once been rightly accused of being an efficient heat source, to my knowledge.

A Franklin stove is guaranteed to look quaint at first glance, but one will later learn these units consume lots and put out little. They are nothing short of a bad investment. Although they can and do glow red-hot for short periods of time (one might even force a small room to become briefly unbearable for an average-sized person, or an old, large cat), the things require constant attention, or fires will die.

And then there is the daily ash-disposal problem to contend with. Yes, unfortunately, what first seems to be a nifty idea fast becomes a smelly, stinking, dirty drudge for Mr. or Mrs. Homeowner. A person can get heated perfectly well by trying to keep up with an old Franklin.

So why am I writing about these particular stoves during the second week of what seems to be a perfect start to a near-perfect summer? The comparison seems fair enough: Franklin stoves never made good sense in any season.

Plus I feel sort of puffy, which can sort of describe a Franklin. I also have wobbly legs; I leak, cough and sputter a lot. If I could be moved out to the curb and left there, some fool would stop to load me in their trunk and drive away, dreaming they had found a treasure.

One of my sisters held a commercial position that, for several years, forced the legal system of Texas to pour vast sums of money into her figurative lap. To me, at the time, those sums seemed far beyond cosmic.

She once called me up on her telephone on one of the coldest days during the month of January, and she proceeded to convince me (using many of her professional words) to come along with her for a weekend jaunt up to the mountains of north-east New Mexico. There, she threatened me sweetly, she would pay out huge amounts of her excessive monies to have narrow boards bound securely to my very-wide feet, and then pay some other minion to haul me up this elevation she had in mind. From there, I would slide back down the incline on these two boards.

It made first-rate sense on the telephone. Easy money. Flat boards. Snow. Gravity. This was all her idea, understand, but even I somehow convinced me that I could do everything she was suggesting. At the time, however, I thought the earth was the shape of a young trapezoid.

We arrived in the small town of Red River soon after dark. Snow fell gently from above as generous and soft flakes. I heard the word powder being whispered continually during that evening. She and I later took seats in a crowded saloon where we listened to a brash singer named Duncan Tuck, who distracted us until well after midnight. He swore his name had nothing to do with any known ski position. That was the funniest thing I heard said that night.

The next morning my dear sister dragged us to a favored restaurant for an early meal. I remember suddenly coming awake at our table by glancing out a large window next to my chair. I almost pulled a neck muscle, straining to see the top of this imposing heap of a rock which emerged from the ground right across the street from where we sat. As my forehead pressed hard on the cold, plate glass window, and as my eyes searched in vain for the summit, I remember proclaiming something that questioned the sanity of the both of us. My little sister smiled pleasantly as she calmly stirred her black coffee round and round and round. She displays such a vile smile at times, this sugary, generous sister of mine.

Looking back, I can vouch that for once in my life, wisdom tapped on my shoulder and I heeded her. Yes sir, I spent the rest of that morning learning how to ski over at the embarrassing bunny hill for beginners. If you take a yardstick and lay it flat on the floor, and then insert a fist under one raised end, you might get an idea of the slope, or pitch of this hill. But I came away amazed at how much I learned there.

Even more amazing was that I felt confident enough to leave the safety of that gentle hill behind. Around mid-morning, I saw and took a path which, according to a sign, led to the main ski lift. For the next four exhilarating minutes (more or less) I slid along like a professional, silent and at relative ease.

Powder snow, huh, I thought? I like this stuff a lot.

How fortunate. As I slid to an almost-perfect stop near the crowded lift, my sister and her entourage of old friends all shushed up at once, arriving to see my cool entrance. Her eyes lit up at her brother who wore an over-sized grin with pride. Her group and I then gathered together (some congratulating my completing the lessons; some eyeing my faded Levis with silent contempt) before, en masse, they suddenly whooshed over to wait in line for the long ride up. I whooshed in right behind them, unable to shake my grin.

Two by two, I watched colorfully-dressed skiers take seats on approaching lift chairs. I, being an odd number (who wore civilian attire), happily went as a single on my first ride up this-is-one-really-huge-mountain. Too bad I had to go last.

Sister stood at the top with her camera at the ready. I stood up to dismount my swing seat and promptly spilled off the platform like a gentleman. Then I slid down hard, landing my dry bottom on wet slush. My torso then dashed down the incline, racing toward a small crowd, all the while performing several circles for their entertainment. It was wonderful. My attention stayed on my two ski tips, which managed to amuse both me and our witnesses by clacking and banging against themselves in a loud, polyrhythmic fashion. I recall howling laughs coming from somewhere, along with several pictures snapped by that evil woman. I felt rather famous.

No matter, a voice cried. We are way too high to be upset. There is only one way down from here, son, and there they go now. You better follow, and be quick about it!

It all became a blur afterwards, but I did just that. I managed to locked on visually to a bright-colored jacket that rode a pair of skis which danced hypnotically in front of me, and whatever that shape and those skis did, I copied. At the bottom, at the end of the run, my guide came to a halt. All heads then turned to see me also stopping mere feet away, and each one of those seasoned skiers, including my so-gracious sister, gasped and gawked as I stood there and casually stomped a bit of snow off one ski. It was a lovely moment to live through.

So what does any of this have to do with Franklin stoves? Considerably. Summer has settled in here at the edge of the swamp, and turned hot, so I felt like going skiing. I am most happy now to report back that, despite my best efforts, nothing broke. Should we try some delicious cocoa now?


Anonymous Ned said...

As I spend most of my time trying to keep my feet from sliding away from under me, skiing is not even a dream, although it could be used as a cruel and unusual punishment.

Wood stoves come in handy only when there is a blizzard and the electricity is out for ten or more hours and you find you are extremely grateful to find a way to heat water for a cup of tea. Other than that, they serve only as a status symbol for those ecologically minded people who look with contempt on those consuming fossil fuels while they merely cut down the forests to keep warm.

5:16 PM  
Blogger Rollo Three Fingers said...

Rollo also wanted to comment, but Ned said it all already.

5:16 PM  
Blogger Harry said...

You can't beat Ned with a ski pole for good comments, Rollo. A dog, maybe; a Canadian, possibly. I am just happy you stopped by.

7:55 PM  
Blogger Gone Away said...

Stands back in amazement. Is there no end to the man's talents? And to connect Franklin stoves to skiing, well, it's just amazing. Another great piece, Harry.

What's that? Me, ski? You must be joking! :D

12:07 PM  
Blogger Harry said...

LOL Gone. You always crack me up, and in the best way possible!

12:21 PM  

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