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Darrell Huckaby - 'New ways' aren't always the best ways

I was sitting in the doctor's office last week - yeah, the older we get the more time we seem to spend sitting in the doctors' offices of the world - and I overheard a lady telling another lady that she missed the "old ways" of doing things.

Now, I am way too much of a gentleman to have eavesdropped on the entire conversation, but hearing that one statement did set me to thinking about the "old ways." That's nothing new. I like to reminisce from time to time. I realize that younger readers might tire of hearing about the "idyllic" '50s and '60s - but I like writing about those days and Barney Anglin likes reading about those days, so if I make two people happy with my memories, that's two more than some folks are able to please these days.

I like a fire in the wintertime and I build one just about every night. I like to stand in front of it and rub my hands together when I come in from the cold and I like to back up to it and warm my backside. People tell me that an open fireplace is inefficient and that all the heat goes up the chimney. They tell me that I should get an insert or a wood stove. Other folks complain about the trouble of hauling wood up on the porch and cleaning out the ashes. Others advise me to put in gas logs.

I usually tell those folks - as nicely as possible - that they are free to heat their houses any way they choose. I like a fire in the winter and build one just about every night.

But even though I like my fireplace, I am awfully thankful that I have a furnace, too, and don't have to rely on that open fire to heat my whole house. All of which brings us back to the original topic - the old ways of doing things.

When I lived at 36 South Broad in Porterdale, we had a gas space heater in the living room. This space heater sat out in the room, on the hearth in front of the sealed up fireplace, and provided what heat there was for the whole house. Just about every house I ever went in had the same type heating system. I remember how proud my daddy was when we got a new heater, with a pilot light. Now we didn't have to hold a match to the burner while reaching around behind the heater to turn on the gas.

You did, however, have to push the knob in to turn the heat up and Daddy was always warning me against "letting the pilot light go out." If that happened, the whole house could apparently fill up with gas, causing everybody in it to go to sleep at night and wake up dead the next morning - which is exactly what happened to my daddy's brother, Bob.

Of course, at bed time we would turn the heater way, way down - or off - and close the bedroom doors. We slept under about forty-leven quilts to keep warm - and kept a "slop jar" under the bed in case nature called in the middle of the night.

If you don't know what a slop jar is, ask an old person.

The worst thing about having a space heater was that it would get really hot after a while and if you rubbed up against it - or fell into it - you were likely to suffer a pretty bad burn. I was an awkward child and have more than one scar on my body from falling into the space heater in our living room.

When my grandmother lived in Porterdale - that would be Mama Ellis, my mama's mama - she didn't have a gas heater, she had a potbellied stove. She burned coal in it and when I went to her house it was my job to keep the coal bucket full. It was a dirty job, but somebody had to do it.

Mama Ellis would keep a pan of water on top of her stove to "keep the air from drying out" and sometimes, in the winter, she would put a glob of Vick's Vapor Rub in the water to "clean us out."

She let the fire die down at bedtime, too and we slept under even more quilts at her house.

Another thing I remember about the "old ways" was how we would have a great big dinner on Sunday afternoon and then, when everybody had eaten their fill, we would leave the food right there on the table and just pull the table cloth over everything. When supper time came we would just uncover it and eat some more - and I am talking about fried chicken and deviled eggs and potato salad and other stuff with mayonnaise in it. I don't know why we didn't die from salmonella or ptomaine poisoning, but we didn't.

I could go on and on and on if space allowed, but it doesn't, so I won't - until next time.

I have no way of knowing, of course, if these were the "old ways" the lady at the doctor's office missed, but the memories of those days are precious to me - and they do linger.

Darrell Huckaby is a local author and educator. He can be reached at dHuck08@bellsouth.net.