When I was in elementary school, there were occasional Saturday mornings in winter when I’d get the dreaded knock on my door at 6am. It was followed by the booming voice of my father…
“Get up! We’re carrying in wood.”
Groaning, I would drag myself from bed (never have been much of a morning person), bundle up, and complain (very, very quietly) with my sister about our dread over the task looming before us.
Our house was heated by a homemade wood-burning stove. My dad can make anything. He turned an old metal barrel into a stove and piped the heat through the whole house. We had a furnace room in the basement where the stove was, and one wall stacked with wood.
Outside the basement door, Dad stored wood for the whole winter. Inside the furnace room was enough wood for a month or so. “Carrying in wood” meant that we went outside, got an armful of wood from Dad, walked down the hall to the furnace room, and waited a few seconds for him to come in with his own load behind us. He put down his load, then took ours from us and stacked the wood neatly against the wall. Then we’d do it all over again. And again. And again…
Dad carried in massive pieces of wood. The wood was so heavy that as a little girl I couldn’t even push or roll it across the floor. When I tried to move it, it wouldn’t budge. But Dad carried in gigantic piece after gigantic piece without any effort that I could see. He was the biggest, strongest man in the world.
The oldest that my sis and I were when we did this chore would’ve been 12 and 9. We moved into that house when we were 5 and 2. Somehow Mom was excused from carrying in wood. I was just the tiniest bit jealous of her…
My memory is probably a little fuzzy here, but it seems like this chore took us at least four hours to accomplish. Those were the longest mornings of my life. Back and forth with that heavy load, wait for Dad, then do it all over again. And out of all the times we did that, I only remember taking one break. Probably because the break was so memorable.
I’m sure Katie (little sis) and I complained constantly as we were doing this task. Katie was pretty little, so one day she was excused to go upstairs and get us some drinks. She filled two big glasses with ice and lemonade, then very carefully made her way to the newly carpeted basement steps. I happened to glance up at the top of the stairs just as she was getting there.
We’d recently been on vacation and a big suitcase on wheels was sitting at the top of the stairs waiting to be carried down. In those days, rolling suitcases had a looped handle that you pulled and then tried to balance the suitcase on all four wheels as you walked (not the best concept; the suitcase was always falling over). Much to my horror, as Katie rounded the corner to start down the steps, her little foot got caught in the suitcase strap. It threw her off balance and she fell headfirst down the stairs.
Of course it isn’t funny to think of a little girl falling down the stairs… Of course not! However, if you knew how Katie sacrificed her body to keep those two glasses of lemonade from spilling on the new carpet, you might have to giggle just a little. (Relax! She’s okay in the end.) I saw my little sister go flying headfirst down the stairs, hollering, with a terrified look on her face. But the whole way down she held her arms out straight in front of her and perfectly balanced those two big glasses of lemonade as she bounced down the stairs. Not one drop of lemonade spilled on the stairs until the bottom three steps! Toward the bottom, she finally gave up the heroic effort and spilled the drinks, landing in a heap on the basement floor.
Oh, but that was not the end of her unfortunate experience. Don’t forget about the suitcase that started this whole thing… Yes, the suitcase that she caught her foot in was right behind her on the stairs, bouncing along behind her. No sooner had she landed at the bottom than she was struck by the run-away suitcase.
She cried and we comforted and we were all thankful that the long fall didn’t do much damage. She was simply a little bumped and bruised. Then Dad asked me what in the world happened and if I had seen it. I felt so bad for her, but as I began to tell what had happened, a little giggle came out. And then another one. I tried so hard to tell what happened without laughing, but by the end of the story – especially when we all realized how successful she’d been at not spilling the drinks – we were all laughing. Well, maybe Katie wasn’t laughing, but the rest of us were.
I think it’s safe to say that we never left suitcases at the top of the stairs again.