Thursday, March 20, 2014

The Behemoth in the Basement
Grandma’s house was warmed by a behemoth in the basement. It was a coal-fed, smoke-belching, fire-breathing furnace. It was a large cast iron beast that claimed a major portion of the cellar. It had two mouths of iron, one to feed it and one to remove its ashes. A tin skin surrounded it, trapping the warmth and directing the heat up through octopus-like arms that rose to the different rooms above.
I descended the stairs to the basement. The bottom landing was a huge flat stone that was three feet wide by four feet long. I knew my uncle Ted would be somewhere down here. My uncle Ted was mentally challenged because of an accident in his youth. He mowed lawns in the summer, tinkered with tube radios, and in the winter I would often find him perched on an old stool in front of the furnace beast.
He straddled an upturned log section that had a large anvil attached to its top. On one side he kept a metal dish pan and on the other side was a five gallon bucket filled with either hickory nuts or black walnuts. Using a ballpoint hammer he cracked the nuts from the bucket and tossed them into the pan. When the pan was full, he carried it upstairs to the T. V. room to join Grandma. She had a quilting frame set up so she could watch the television and sew.
She made quilts. She cut, pieced, and stitched the squares before she connected the squares into the top of the quilt. She would attach the multiple layers to the frame, pencil the design for the stitching on the top, and pushing the needle and thread through the batting and coming out through the bottom layer before repeating many thousands of time. She hand sewed one for each of her twenty-nine grandchildren. It was given to them as a wedding gift.
Ted sat in a chair at one side of the room where he would pick the nut meats from the shells, sorting the “goodies” from their hard cases. It was very tedious work. He had regular customers who bought his shelled nut meats for their Thanksgiving and Christmas baking.
When he reached the bottom of the bucket, he bagged the meats to store them until he could sell them and carried the empty shells downstairs to feed the fiery beast in the basement.

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