17 June 2010

Wood stoves in my past and in my future

This is my parents' engagement photo. Here's a little background. They met at a dance in Pennsylvania right before my Dad got drafted into the Army. Europe was ten years removed from the cultural and physical devastation of the Second World War and my Dad was slated to become part of the US Forces that occupied Germany as it rebuilt itself. Fast forward a couple of months and in 1955 my parents married and settled in Wertheim am Main in the German state of  Baden-W├╝rttemberg. My parents were young and didn't have a whole lot more than each other. They lived off-base in a second floor apartment and it was in that apartment that they embarked on their new lives.

This is the day my mother arrived in Germany.

They were happy times overall from what I can surmise. The German family who owned the building more or less adopted them so when my oldest brother came along he had grandparents in the US but downstairs he had an Oma and an Opa.

I love hearing their stories of making their own way as strangers in a strange land and it's those stories about that apartment in Wertheim am Main that pushed me out into the world to explore it on my own.

Out of all the stories my parents tell of their early years, the one that never fails to amaze me is that their apartment had a wood stove that was both a kitchen appliance and a source of heat. "Whipping something up" in the kitchen was never really an option and cooking required a bit of planning and quite a bit of skill. Despite the fact that both of my parents like to downplay the pain and suffering of their early years, it had to have been a challenge. By the time my brother Ray entered the picture a year later, keeping a baby fed and in clean diapers with only a wood stove to work with speaks volumes about my parents' ability to make it in a tough situation. But again, to hear them tell it, it wasn't such a tough time. They were young, they were crazy about each other and they had a baby to take care of.

I grew up hearing about that apartment in Wertheim and my parents' adventures with that wood stove. I have a running fantasy of owning a mountain retreat somewhere and living off the grid while I'm there. My running fantasy has me mastering the art of cooking on a wood stove in much the way my mother learned how to do it  55 years ago.

via Flickr

Wood-burning cookstoves are still being made and the best ones available are made by the Elmira Stoveworks in Elmira Ontario.

These wood-burning cookstoves Victorian exteriors belie the advances built into them. They're highly efficient and clean-burning. They're also far less temperamental than the wood stove my parents had to tame in that second floor apartment in Wertheim.

My folks have a lot of photos from their early days in Baden-W├╝rttemberg but so far as I can tell, there aren't any photos of their stove. I doubt it was as nice as these Fireview models from Elmira, but having one in my someday mountain retreat will bring the whole wood stove thing full circle so far as I'm concerned. Wood stoves past and wood stoves future, it's kind of comforting to know they're still out there.


  1. When the Mennonites make me insane and the oil ruins your idyllic Florida coast, lets run off somewhere and live off the grid. I'll teach you how to cook a gourmet meal on one of those things! JD can be our farmhand.
    Great post!!

  2. Now that would be one for the books. JD as a farmhand. That's just funny to think about.

  3. I love hearing about how design/your work has been influenced by your life - and how it influences everyone's lives!

  4. Thanks Saucy; everything in life is just telling stories.

  5. Wow. "No flipping the switch on the Mr. Coffee in the mornings for them" is what I am thinking right now as I am drinking my coffee. Coffee would have been a much bigger production for sure.

  6. Yeah. No microwave to warm up a bottle or washing machine to wash diapers. My mind reels.

  7. Still a popular way to cook up here in some parts of Vermont - mostly antique models though. My own wood burning days are over (for now) - what a lot of work: stacking, stoking, poking, ash removal... There is nothing like the quality of heat that radiates from one of these massive beasts though; it warms you through and through. Puts you to sleep too, on a cold winter's night, sitting in a kitchen rocker, trying to read as the warm drowsiness overtakes you...

  8. What a picture you paint Rich. Get me to Vermont, STAT.

  9. Why a mountain retreat Paul (or Melody)? Its the "The Hills" that are alive with the sound of music. You could cook, sing or even dance all at the same time. :) (We have plenty of them just across the River in the province of Que---bec. Americans are welcome!)

    On a serious note; I really enjoyed reading the story about your parents Paul. Though I never personally cooked on a wood stove I can attest to their warmth. As a child I can recall my Grandmother having one which had a (makeshift ?)screen that flanked it. When I and my siblings stayed over for a visit it was a treat to slip into 'warm cozy' undershirts in the morning prior to her preparation of breakfast. -Brenda-

  10. As I can attest from personal experience Brenda, there are plenty of them on the Ontario side of the river too.

  11. Good pictures of your folks, I have the CD from their 50th wedding anniversary, lots of good pictures and memories there!

  12. I hadn't thought for a looong time about the dirt floor adobe cottage I lived in for a year in my early 20s near Santa Fe. A wood stove was cook top, heat source and crackling companion for a lot of dark nights.

  13. Kerry: I have that video Steve made loaded onto this laptop. Actually, the two photos of them at the top of this post were scans Steve made for that very video. I have to tell you, Steve scanned every old family photo he could get his hands on. What a treasure.

    George: A dirt floor adobe in Santa Fe sounds like it has quite a story attached to it.

  14. The problem with those off-grid places is that they often come with chickens.
    I thought of you when I read this:

  15. Oh I don't have a problem with rural chickens in the least. Really. I don't. It's their urban counterparts that make me crazy. Thanks for the article, "velociraptors" is perfect!


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