Monday, January 21, 2008

Warming Up

Warming Up
8.5" x 11"
colored pencil
It finally feels like winter here. No snow, ice, or extreme temperatures. But, it has drizzled a bit and, at night, has reached freezing, leaving the trees bare and the grass dead.
In Conitz Dry Goods Store, there was a large, black, double sided metal gas heater in the center of the store, near the cash register. Another large gas heater, popped and hummed in the office area in the back of the store. This was all the heat in the building.
The stoves were stored in the summer, until more recent years, when they were left up all year, and just checked for leaks before they were turned on. That meant turning the gas on, striking a match near the hoses and the stove to see if there were leaks. Sometimes, in the closed building, there would be a bit of a smell of gas, but those old stoves served the store and its customers well. On a really cold day, frost might soon form on the big plate glass show windows in the front.
The big black metal box of the center heater held two sheets of a material that looked like cotton, one one each side of the stove. Round holes in rows, on both sides, top and bottom, allowed the heat to escape, and it also provided a place where you could watch the cotton-like material "burn". Only, it never really burned. It might singe or scorch, and seem like it was going to ignite, but it never did. I guess that was asbestos inside the stove.
The stove in the back was a one sided, open front stove, with wire across the front so you couldn't reach in. It had a cotton-like backing behind the burners like the black stove.
It was hypnotic in the quiet of the buidling, to hear the noises from the stoves, and to feel the warmth that they radiated. Sometimes it was extremely hard to stay awake while the heaters were going.
As people came into the store, on a cold day, they first headed for the stove, where they held their hands for a few minutes, then turned themselves to warm up on their front and back, then back again until they felt comfortable enough to shop or do business.
Not too many ladies or girls were wearing slacks or jeans in those days. So ladies came in with their dresses, sweaters, jackets, coats, scarves, and wearing stockings held up with garter belts or girdles, and sometimes socks on top of the stockings, their shoes, and maybe galoshes, if it was wet outside. Older ladies might wear knit underwear and cotton stockings, but the younger ladies had stockings and thin underwear. Stockings with a seam in back were the vogue and, when stockings were hard to get during the war, ladies might use an eyebrow pencil to draw that line directly on their leg. Sunbathing was also popular and the tan made it look like the ladies were wearing stockings with that line up their leg.
Ladies, with their bare legs, tended to back up to the stove. For best results, the skirt was lifted up a bit in back, so that they could get the warmth on cold bodies. Of course, they had to be sure there were no other customers, or that the men were occupied elsewhere while they took advantage of the stove.
Sometimes, my great-aunts, grandmother, aunt, mother, sister, and I , and any company we might have, would line up in front of the stove, dresses hiked up in the back, warming away. There might be too many to get full benefit from the stove, so we were glad when a man or customer came in, and someone had to move to go wait on that person. Gave the rest of us more exposure to the heat.
At times, we would have to warn someone who was enjoying the stove too much, to move away from the stove, or to put their skirt down some. Men were in the store and about to come to that area.
I don't remember that anyone ever got burned on the stove, but, at certain ages, we had to warn children of a certain height to be careful so that they didn't hit their head on the corner of the stove if they should not be watching. Fortunately, the stove was not on when children of that height were being a bit rambunctious.
We've heard the old stories of stores with pot-bellied wood stoves, and the cracker barrel, with men sitting around telling stories and playing checkers.
Well, we had "the stove", where people gathered around and visited and talked. Some people made their daily rounds, to visit in the stores on Main Street, stop in for coffee somewhere, or piece of pie, then visit some more on their way to and from the Post Office, or to pay a bill or buy some needed item. People could walk all over town, but most did drive their car, or even a tractor, or pick up, to town. And, as they visited, news and stories were spread through town quickly. People came from all over to visit with Grandpa, to interview him, and to hear his stories, especially in his later years. Grandpa started that store in 1901 and worked in it even on the day he died at age 96. After he died, friends came by to visit with his son and daughter.
The two foot stools used for measuring feet from the shoe department, were placed near the stove. There was a rocking chair, a folding chair, a couple of lawn chairs, and a leather and chrome chair, that stayed around the stove. A couple of worn wooden benches were placed near the stove. These pieces of furniture remained in the warm weather when the stoves were taken across the street to a building Grandpa rented for a warehouse.
Grandpa would work, but, when he was finished with his customer and the books, he would sit in the leather and chrome chair between the counter that held baby things and gift items, and another counter that held towels, tablecloths, bath sets, and cup towels. Here he would sit silently, share a story, listen to the problems that people brought to him, or discuss politics and the news.
Central heating, now, is nice. But it sure would be nice to be able to hike my dress up and warm myself by a real heater in this cold weather. I just can't get that close to the vents in the ceiling to get nice and toasty warm!
I used Derwent Colored pencils in the drawing above. Pictured are "the stove", with someone's hands reaching over it from the right side of the page. Between the stove and the counter with the cash register, a woman with a green jacket and a black plaid dress is hiking up her skirt to get warm. One of the footstools from the shoe department is in front of the counter. On the next counter, on the left, there are some sweaters, folded. On the counter to the right, is the cash register, done in a fucshia color. You can see the glow from the fire inside the stove through the double row of holes near the top. There were more holes in the bottom of the stove.
Thank you for reading, and for your interest.
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