Chores


It wasn't always easy street, of course. There were the dreaded chores to interfere with the idyll of communing with or consumption of nature. My main chores consisted of splitting and stacking firewood, and keeping a fire going to make hot water for laundry day.

The main heater for our house was a wood burning space heater, although a lot of heating and hot water came from the oil-fired kitchen stove. We had easy access to plenty of dry fir and lots of cedar for kindling, so getting a fire going was usually a matter of a bit of kindling, some fir and a match.

I got good at lighting wood fires. I was rather proud of myself over this aptitude, until the day I blew my face off.

There were four buildings in our camp. The main house for the family, the original house, always called the cookhouse, because it served the purpose of kitchen in the original camp, a bunkhouse for Bob Grey and whomever else was working for Dad at the time, and a smaller two-room bunkhouse that became the laundry room.

The laundry room had an electric dryer, powered by the plant, though Mom usually hung laundry on clothes lines, a gasoline-powered wringer washer (this had a Briggs and Stratton motor in it, and a kick pedal for a starter, rather like a motorcycle), a shower, a hot water tank, and water heater made out of a 45 gallon drum. The drum lay on its side in an iron cradle, had a chimney at one end, tubes attached to the hot water tank inside, and a steel door and a small damper hole at the other. The damper hole was about the size of a silver dollar, with a small sheet metal cover that could be flipped out of the way to let more air into the firebox. My chore was to keep a fire going in this heater, so there would be a constant supply of hot water for the laundry.

One day, I got a good blaze going, stoked it up with fir bark, and wandered off to commune with or consume nature. I dallied too long, and when I returned the fire was almost out, and I knew I would get into trouble if I didn't get it going. I tossed some more wood and bark in, and waited. It didn't catch. I looked around for some Diesel fuel, always a quick fix for a lagging fire, but couldn't find any. I was getting a little worried, so I hit on the bright idea of using some gasoline. It was dangerous, but so was my situation. Mom or Dad might yell at me. I tossed half a soup can of gasoline in, and quickly shut the door, expecting all hell to break loose. Nothing. Ever so cautiously, I opened the damper, to let some more air in. Nothing. I was puzzled, so I brought my eye down to peer in the damper. Hell broke loose. The gasoline ignited in a blast, and a jet of fire blew out the damper hole, and over my entire face.

I was not brave about this.

I screamed, I cried, I ran. The rest of that day and night was a blur. Mom plastered my face with a family cure-all called dog-medicine, that I have long suspected might have been camomile lotion. By the next day, after gingerly washing my face, the top layer of skin came away in patches, and I had no eyebrows to speak of. Needless to say, I was loath to go to school. The first day back caused me at least as much suffering as the whole fire incident. Miracle of miracles, my eyes were not damaged. I have rarely used gasoline to assist a fire since. Diesel is much better.

Many years later, Dad and I were clearing some land. We had burned most of the wood, the fire was out and we were stacking a bunch more for a final fire of the day. He had tossed some gasoline on, but it was perfectly safe to do so as the previous fire was out and cold. As we were tossing more brush on the pile, I watched in quiet fascination, and time stood still, as an ash from his cigarette drifted ever so slowly to the ground. Hell soon broke loose, but nothing like the day I blew my face off.

Another chore that often fell to me was emptying the garbage. This was a trip with a five gallon pail of kitchen waste to the water's edge. I used to dump the refuse in the water, and watch as crabs and small fish would swarm in to eat what they could find. Seagulls and change of tide cleared away any residue.

A slight variation on this was emptying the mouse pail. One summer we had an infestation of mice. The local population of mice soared, into the thousands, and the rodents became a nuisance. So Dad or Bob Grey built a better mouse trap. This one was a five gallon pail (we had plenty of these, cat grease and other essentials came in five gallons pails) filled with water, with a trip board arranged above it. The board was seasoned with cheese and flour to attract our furry friends. They would walk out, pass the pivot point, and drop into the water to drown. Hey, it was a rough life for everyone. Each day, as the infestation continued, I would go under the house to retrieve the trap, and dump the mass of carcasses into the saltchuck. There were hundreds of dead mice daily at the peak of the infestation.


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