Colder Than an Eskimo’s Wallet ... by Cindy Beck

© Cindy Beck, 2008
(Keywords: Cindy Beck, December, woodstove, aspen, Christmas, The Christmas Song, humor, Latter-day Saints, LDS, Your LDS Radio, yourLDSNeighborhood.com)

Don’t you love the month of December? The crisp, winter air … the smell of aspen burning in the woodstove … fire roaring from the chimney, and rising twenty feet into the air … smoke, roiling in black clouds throughout the house.

We’d never experienced the joy of a woodstove until we arrived at our little home in Utah—in the dead of night, and with Christmas close on our heels.

We stumbled through the door, our eyes blurred from thirteen hours of driving through a blizzard. “What in the world is that?” I asked, pointing to a black, misshapen iron mass in the living room.

“That’s our woodstove.” Russ flipped the light switch, and a yellow glow from the bare bulb encompassed the metal hulk. Russ pointed at it with pride. “Someone said it used to be an old railroad depot stove.”

I looked at its mismatched legs and cracked belly. “Seems to me, it’s more like a county landfill stove.” I shivered. “It’s cold enough to freeze …”

I glanced down at our seven-year-old son, Davey, who’d staggered in and lay curled in a ball, half asleep, on a carpet the color of dried mustard. I continued, “It’s cold enough in here to freeze an Eskimo’s wallet to his gluteus maximus!”

Davey’s eyes popped open. “What’s a gluteus maximus?”

Russ patted his head. “Go back to sleep. Mom meant an Eskimo was gluing his wallet to his … maxi mouse.”

Davey’s eyes drooped as he said, “Oh, a Maxi Mouse. That sounds fun. I’d like one of those for Christmas …” His voice trailed off as he fell back asleep.

I shivered and looked pointedly at Russ. “Well, I can tell you this—my maxi mouse is numb from the cold. Why is it freezing in here?”

Russ rubbed his hands together. “It’s not cold,” he said, “it’s bracing! Makes you feel alive!”

A question zipped into my mind. “Exactly why isn’t there any heat in this place?”

The man who thought the temperature was simply “bracing,” pulled his goose down jacket tighter. “Um … the previous owners left us without any fuel in the tank.”

He pointed to a black rock the size of a small meteorite, sitting next to the county landfill stove. “But, I bought coal. It was cheap, and I thought we could use that to heat the house for a while. At least until I get a paycheck.”

Coal. The anthracite (or was it bituminous?) heat source that warmed London … in the dark ages … which were so dark because soot from the coal fell on everything—houses, people, cats and mice. No wonder the Black Plague was black.

Breaking out of my thoughts of "ye merrie ole England," I touched the meteorite with my foot. Coal dust fell onto the carpet and instantly glued itself there for time and all eternity.

No doubt Russ sensed the vibes my brain sent out at that moment, because he stepped forward, opened the stove’s door, picked up the rock and set it inside. Taking a match from his pocket, he lit it and held it to the lump. The match sizzled and burned until Russ had to drop it. We watched its tiny flame flicker and die. He tried again … and again. The black meteorite sat there, taunting us.

“It’s just psychological that the room feels even colder now,” Russ said, turning his collar up to cover his ears, and shutting the stove door.

“I take it you don’t really know how to light that thing?” I zipped my jacket up to my neck, and pulled mittens from my pocket.

“Nope. Haven’t a clue. But in the meantime, we can keep on our jackets, put on hats, and sleep on the floor. In the morning, when my co-workers come to help move the furniture in, I’ll ask how to get a coal fire going.”

I walked over and zipped Davey into a military-issue aviator jacket and knit hat that I knew would keep him toasty through the night. Russ and I pulled winter caps onto our own heads and curled up next to each other. Then we got giggling fits thinking about it.

“It’s not so bad,” I said, snuggling against him. “We’ll make it through the night and get the fire going tomorrow.”

“Yup,” Russ replied, “and we’re probably the only ones in town wishing Santa would bring us lumps of coal in our stockings.”

I hummed a few bars of “Here Comes Santa Claus,” and then as I drifted off to sleep, mumbled to Russ, “That’s right, but I’d like mine in smaller lumps, and as ones that actually burn, please.”

What's playing in my head: The Christmas Song, written by Mel Torme and Bob Wells, and sung by Nat King Cole.

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Triple Nickel said...

Great Blog. Makes me thankful for forced air heating and a dog to curl up with to keep me warm!
Of course you could always consider moving to St. George!
Thanks for a good one.

Nichole Giles said...

Wow, I got cold just reading about your cold night! I love those coal stoves and all, but I think I'd turn into a popsicle if that was my only source of warmth.

I'm really glad you all survived.


Shirley Bahlmann said...

Oh, you do make me laugh! Landfill stove, indeed!
Giggling all the way...

Cheri J. Crane said...

Ah, the bliss of woodburners . . . or coalburners, as the case may be. I'll never forget the time I lit ours, not realizing my husband had stuffed the chimney full of things to keep cold air from entering through that passage. Good times as I recall. We all smelled like beef jerky for several days until the smoke cleared out.

Great blog.

G. Parker said...

Okay...so can you really burn coal?? lol

Cathy said...

Trying to light a rock on fire, what an image.
There is a coal bin built into the basement in my grandma's house. We take our kids there to show them what coal is. You know, the threat of it all.
Did you know that coal is the official rock of utah. Just thought I'd share. Things they make you learn and you have no idea what you'll ever do with it.
Enjoyed your story, as always.