Hopefully, it hadn't snowed overnight....because in a few hours, Dad would crank (literally, no starter on our old 1937 relic) up the Farmall tractor and inch it down to the annual site of our woodpile. Snow made woodcutting harder work. A long row of hickory poles, cut and trimmed from our woods, waited to be cut into firewood. Because Dad had the day off from the feed mill, and we boys were home from school,  this became our Thanksgiving ritual. The two draft horses got the day off and an extra ration of ear corn; Barney and Frank watched from their pasture, nostrils steaming in the freezing air. They had pulled all the logs from the woods on an earlier weekend.

Food was on our minds, of course. While we worked on the wood pile, Mom was working wonders on the wood fired kitchen stove.

Dad took the position nearest the belted saw blade, feeding the poles to the blade; OSHA hadn't been invented yet. All of us survived with our limbs intact, and having no snow made our job a bit safer. Hickory wood releases a tangy aroma when superheated by a whizzing saw. You notice it at first, until then it blends with the warm fumes from the old tractor, and sweat, even in the sub freezing morning.  We three boys would lift each pole, slowly sidestepping toward the whining saw's table.  

When it was done, we'd survey the new winter's woodpile; Fresh rounds of charcoal-gray bark wood, fresh-sawn ends showing the trees' ages. No worries about clearcutting. Hickory trees, and their fat squirrels, still abound on that farm. No one cuts firewood anymore, so deer and now turkeys, too, flourish in the forest.

On a farm, “dinner” means the noon meal. And so it was with us. We'd return to the very warm kitchen to the aroma of Mom's baking hen, dressing, Grandma's home-baked bread. (Every Wednesday was baking day at our house.) Every dish was made with ingredients from our farm: The flour was milled a mile away, where Dad worked weekdays; The baking hen was a past member of our flock.  Potatoes, dressing ingredients....pumpkin pie...lots of organic food, but we didn't know the term then.

It was years, to my ongoing regret, before I appreciated how hard my family worked to put that food before us kids, on that huge kitchen table. The real world lurched and lumbered on, unbeknownst to we kids, who were warm, dry and well fed.

It was a great way to grow up.  Today, I'm doing the turkey, dressing and gravy, in our suburban kitchen. When it's ready, my own silent toast will be in thanks for those responsible for those meals long ago, and then for friends present and past.

Originally posted to B52D on Thu Nov 22, 2012 at 08:24 AM PST.

Also republished by Personal Storytellers and Community Spotlight.

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