Copyright 2022 by Christin Kaiser
Photo property of the author.
foundation of our old farmhouse was dry laid fieldstone, which Dad
pointed in the early 1940’s when he placed a concrete pad for
the new furnace. The pad covered the central portion of the dirt
floor, leaving much of the rest of the cellar under the midsection
and the barn apartment unimproved. Never one to waste builders’
material, Dad pointed much of the stone foundation at the same time,
using the remaining mortar.
entered the cellar of the main house where I grew up by way of a
short narrow closet, then down a short flight of stairs to a small
landing directly under the second main stairway landing above it;
here you’d turn to the left and clamber backwards down a short,
steep ship’s stair to the cellar floor. Above the landing was
a makeshift shelf where Mother kept emergency rations, in case we
were snowed in. A whole tinned chicken, several sauterne jugs full
of well water, and assorted canned vegetables were there in case of
need. Now and then the chicken would be replaced by a newer one, and
we’d have an unexpected fricassee for supper.
headroom was about 5’8” between the massive cross beams
made of squared-off tree trunks, maybe only five feet under the
beams. The center chimney sprouted four fireplaces and was supported
by a brick arch that my grandfather kept his wine & rum in.
entry was from the ‘Ell’, the four room midsection where
my paternal grandmother lived. She had a mountain climber’s
stair case that twined along and around the bee hive oven & old
kitchen fireplace chimney. There was also a huge wash kettle set
into the brickwork under the bee hive oven. To get to the cellar
you went down a twisting stairway that crossed over the shallow well.
Dad had hinged the stairs midway so if the pump leathers needed
replacing, it was possible to lift the stairs out of the way. (My
Mum did that when needed, after the plumber showed her how. She also
fixed other parts of the pump when it broke down.)
part of the cellar was narrow, and only had a sidewalk of concrete
that lead out to the back cellar under the summer kitchen and
carriage shed apartment, then into the garage & workshop under
the big barn. No windows in the back portion… very scary, as
spiders the size of silver dollars and frogs the size of squirrels
hid out in the dirt-floored space. An enormous creaky door gave
access to the barn undercroft.
brought a small stream trickling through the stone walls and out into
the excavated ‘pit’ in front of the garage doors. Dad and
friends excavated and reinforced the barn’s south cellar facade
to use as a garage after the manure and pigs and chicken pens were
retired. He used to gleefully tell the story of pushing his snooty
cousin Patsy down the horse stalls’ manure chute. She grew
into an even snootier adult then presented my sister and me with even
more delicate and snootful cousins!
September, several cords of logs would be dumped in the orchard. We
stacked the wood and put a tarp on it; during the year it would be
ferried load by load to the main cellar to stay dry. The Rumford
fireplaces assisted our furnace to keep the house warm. If you
banked the fires at night, you’d have enough live coals to
restart in the morning. The year my daughter was born I started the
dining room fire on Labor Day and it never went out until after
Memorial Day. No paper needed… just a bit of pine kindling &
some small split logs, then larger logs added after 15-20minutes. Ashes
were shovelled up weekly, and often used to make the icy
driveway less treacherous.
cooked many meals over deep coals in that fireplace. A pair of brick
blocks held the grill and the cast iron griddle for pancakes. We made
toast in a camper’s reflector oven and had tasty fun breakfasts
during storms or…’just because’
hosted a Christmas ‘Grand Illumination’ the Sunday before
Christmas. The party was modelled on a Colonial Williamsburg event. I
cooked up traditional stews and baked goods to feed the 100 or so
people who filtered through the house during the evening. Half the
visitors were blood relations or extended family friends. Many were
members of the Historical Society, doing their annual bonfire and
carolling walk past the house. The dining room fireplace held a
huge pot of mulled cider and a smaller one of Swedish Glögg. On
the mantelpiece above the fireplace sat bottles of akavit, rum or
applejack. No one left hungry, thirsty, or cold.
it all sat the old cellar, supplying dried hardwood and dusty forced
air from the ancient furnace. ‘Christmas Spiders’ by the
dozen waited patiently for us to go to bed before crawling up through
the leaky duct work, to spin their webs across the windows, hoping to
welcome a late-season fly for their holiday meals.
Christin's story list and biography
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