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 by Frank Shortt
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Chopping Wood
        On a hillside farm in the Appalachians there are many and diverse chores to perform in order to keep the home fires burning. There is water to carry, cows to milk, corn to hoe, potatoes to dig. The one chore that kept us busiest was keeping the wood box full. We had no gas or other power to cook our food except on the old cast iron Wedgewood stove.
        Wendell, my brother, was only fifteen months older than me, so we sometimes seemed more like twins.
        If he said, ‘let’s do something’, I would say, ‘we should have done that yesterday!’
        Wendell was much stouter than me. He was also much more serious. He was a gentle, friendly boy with sparkling blue eyes, reddish blond hair and less likely to get into trouble than me.
         I, on the other hand, had to be moving about! My small frame, constant smile and willingness to help others, always promised me a place at someone’s table. I was very scrawny. I suppose that folks felt sorry for me. They didn’t know that I ran all the fat off.
        “Wendell! Frankie! It’s getting late and you’ve played around all day. If it gets dark, you’ll have to cut the wood by lantern light. Better get movin’!” Mom exclaimed.
        Stella Shortt, part Cherokee and a beautiful, blue eyed lady, was a no nonsense mother of ten children. Assertively, she kept a decent semblance of order in our household. Her word was law! She did not spare the rod!
        The cooking stove was the center of our world. We sat around the kitchen table in the winter months to finish homework, talk about the day, shoot the breeze and were kept warm by heat from the stove. If one wanted to take a bath, water had to be drawn from the reservoir at the end of the stove. Dishes washed with hot water came from this same reservoir.
        Food cooked on this stove was the best tasting one could ever find. There was not only the care taken to prepare it, but the warmth that emanated from each dish that mom sat on the table. One could always find a leftover biscuit or a hunk of cornbread in the warming oven at the top of the stove.
        The wood box!! That was another story. Seemingly, it was always empty. It was a sentinel at the end of the stove. It is a wonder I do not look for it to this day!
        Mom had to cook from daylight until dark to feed all our brood. She spent so much time cooking that I do not know how she ever found time to do anything else. She loved to read.
        Wendell and I were elected to keep the wood box full. Looking back, I cannot understand why we always waited to the last minute to chop wood.
        In winter, we trudged through snow and mud, chilled to the bone, to find the illusive dead trees that provided us with fuel. No matter if we were right in the middle of a game with other children, we could be called to ‘fill the wood box’! This call could come at any hour of the day. We have even been told to ‘get up!’ after going to bed in order to chop wood. If we were hoeing corn or some other chore, we were required to stop if the wood box was empty. The flame had to be fed!
       Wendell and I would climb to the top of some hill, find a dead tree, and commence to chop it down. The tree would then be trimmed of all branches.
        After this we looked for a clearing to set up our sawing area. This usually consisted of another dead log to be used as a sawhorse. Wendell grabbed one end of the crosscut saw, with me dragging on the other. We sawed until the log was completely cut up into twelve inch sections. We rolled the sections to the bottom of the hill to be split with a steel or wooden froe and a sledge hammer.
        Carrying the wood on to the woodshed was another chore. Our old steel-wheeled wheelbarrow was used for this transportation, sometimes sinking in the mud requiring extra energy to extract it. I am sure we cursed a little under our breaths.
       I failed to mention that sometimes brother E. L. would tag along to sit on the log while we sawed it up. This led to a few dumps into the snow or mud on his part if our sawing got to be too rambunctious. We probably also resented the fact that he was too small to help with the sawing. Boy, was he puny in those bygone days!
        To this day, I can still hear mom yelling,
        “Frankie, fill the wood box!”