Burn everything, except Shakespeare

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(Host) Commentator Edith Hunter has some timely advice about keeping warm on these arctic-cold days.

(Hunter) “It’s simply freezing; the dogs are sticking to the sidewalk. There is a report that a wall of ice is moving southward. Little credence is given to the rumor that the ice has pushed the Cathedral of Montreal as far as St. Albans.”

These lines from Thornton Wilder’s play, “Skin of Our Teeth” ring true these days. The problem of just keeping warm takes center stage. I know it is possible to do it, in this big old house, since someone has been doing it here since 1798.

Years ago the huge central chimney was removed from the kitchen in the back section of the house and stoves were installed. Still later, a central wood-burning furnace was put in the cellar. When my husband Armstrong’s maiden aunts moved here in 1942, the furnace was converted to coal, and then to oil.

When Armstrong and I moved over from the barnhouse in 1981 we disconnected the furnace and removed the radiators to make room for bookcases. The unheated cellar is a great place for storing potatoes and other root crops.

Armstrong installed a small electric heater there, aimed at the water pipes. I turn this on when the thermometer goes down to 10 above. He put a heat tape around the pipe under the pantry leading to my washing machine. This also goes on at 10 degrees. We put baseboard electric heat in the three bathroooms and use it sparingly.

Then we put in two woodburning soapstone stoves: one in the kitchen, and the other in the music room (my computer room).

The best advance planning I ever did for heating with wood was to have three sons. Wood stoves burn a lot of wood which involves carrying a lot of wood. Fortunately those three sons are all within carrying distance of our enormous woodpile. It is understood that from October until May one enters the house, by way of the woodshed, with an armload of wood.

One of the great figures in town a generation ago was 5th generation Weathersfielder, Winifred Eliza Perkins. During the frigid winter of 1977 she sent advice to the readers of the Weathersfield Weekly on how to keep warm with one stick of wood. “Take stick and run upstairs and throw it out the back window. Run downstairs and around the house. Pick up stick and run upstairs again and throw it out the window. Repeat until you are warm.”

Again, to quote from Thornton Wilder’s play: “There isn’t enough wood Henry. Go upstairs, bring down the chairs and start breaking up the beds. Save the human race. Don’t worry the children about the cold, just keep them warm. Burn everything – except Shakespeare.”

This is Edith Hunter keeping warm on the Center Road.

Writer and historian Edith Hunter lives in Weathersfield Center, Vermont.

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