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The Orange Wood Burning Stove

by Cathy Coombs 5 months ago in Short Story · updated 5 months ago
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The lesson from stepping out of my world

The Orange Wood Burning Stove
Photo by Dillon Fancher on Unsplash

I still remember how excited I was to see where Peggy lived. Even though she went to my school, she didn't live in my neighborhood. She lived on a farm that wasn't too far away. It was in walking distance. Every time my family drove past their house, I would see their big white house and all the cornfields.

We were in the same small sixth-grade class.

All she would talk about were her chores and that they grew a lot of corn and had animals like pigs and cows.

The only chores I had was to make my bed and put my dishes in the sink.

As 12-year-olds, all we always talked about was spending the night with each other but it never happened.

One day, though, in our last week of school before our summer break, we were out on the playground practicing our double-jump-roping. We'd sing the same song over and over replacing names in the old tune and we were game for anyone to join in--that is if they thought they could do the double-jump-rope as good as we could. And the singing would get louder!

Down in the valley where the green grass grows, there sat Peggy sweet as a rose ...

When the day was done, Peggy asked me if I wanted to spend the night with her on Friday. She could walk home with me after school and then I could pack my things and walk to the farm with her. I felt a little anxious because I had never spent the night with anyone whose family I didn't know. I also had never spent the night on a farm.

I guess I was surprised when I went home and asked my parents if I could spend the night and they said it was okay. So on Thursday at school, I told Peggy the good news. She was so excited to have a friend come over. She promised to show me all the animals at the farm. I could even follow her or help with her chores on Saturday morning. But I had to be home by noon.

It was a cultural experience for me. I had seen a dairy farm when I was much younger. I even rode a horse, but I had never seen how a real farm operated with cows and chickens, and pigs even. And corn growing as far as your eye could see.

On Friday, we only had a half-day of school. Peggy and I exchanged glances with big fat smiles. We were so excited that we could hardly wait. Once school let out, all the kids were screaming their first scream of summer to begin! We stopped wondering why Sonja wore the same outfit three days in a row or why Tommy never combed his red hair.

We walked a few blocks to get to my house. My dad wasn't home yet but my mom was. My mom finally got to meet Peggy who I talked about all school year. I had a small bag packed with pajamas and a change of clothes for Saturday along with a pair of old tennis shoes. Peggy warned me that we might be walking in some mud while feeding the farm animals.

"You kids have fun!" my mom said as we walked out the back door.

"We will," we said laughing. I added, "I'll be home by noon tomorrow."

"Okay, see you then," mom said.

We walked across the gravel to reach the sidewalk that would take us to the main road. We were 12, but we felt like teenagers as the soles of our feet crunched into the gravel. Lots of dandelions are already on the side of the road.

Once we got to the main road, we would get to Anderson Street that led to another road that kind of looked like a country road. I could see Peggy's house from the top of the road. We walked down one hill and then up another hill and her house sat to the right.

It was a big two-story white house with gray shutters. There were green bushes in the front with lots of daffodils in front of the house. To the left, you could see the beginning of the cornfields. You couldn't really see any animals until you got to the back, but the closer you got, the more you could see and smell part of the farm. There was a big barn next to a big oak tree that had one of those homemade tire swings.

When we got inside, Peggy hollered, "Mom, Katie's here!"

"I'm in the kitchen," her mom hollered back.

We went into the kitchen, giggling and laughing. "Hi, Katie, glad to finally meet you!" her mom said. "How's your day been so far? Peggy's been talkin' about you for months, and here you are! You call me Joanie, no need to be too proper here."

I smiled at Peggy's mom. She was pretty nice. She was just like a mom. I don't know what I was expecting. Are farm moms supposed to be different? I did picture her having a dress with flowers on it and a long red gingham apron on with a kitchen towel hanging off her arm. It was nothing like that. She had on jeans and a purple tee-shirt with a white faced barn owl design, and her curly grayish-blonde hair was pulled up in a ponytail.

Peggy took me up the wooden stairs to her bedroom so I could drop off my things. It would be a while before dinner, so she was going to take me around the house before we went outside.

The inside of the house had hardwood floors, all nice and shiny. I mean, it was really clean. We went from room to room and each one had different colored paint on the walls. I guess that wasn't really strange, just different.

The living room had a faint shade of light purple paint on the walls. But what caught my eye was the orange-painted wood-burning stove in the corner with a small crate of chopped wood sitting next to it. We're talking bright orange.

Against one wall was a sofa and across from that were two brown wingback chairs, and an old coffee table in between. The end table was blue with a blue lamp on it. The lampshade was yellow with pictures of little white barn owls on each panel. I think Peggy's mom likes those owls. We all like something. I collected keychains.

There weren't stacks of magazines on the coffee table like at my house. There was no clutter anywhere. Everything had its place.

Peggy's bedroom was painted light blue and she had a blue-flowered bedspread resting on a tall mattress with a bright yellow pillow on top that had embroidered daffodils and dark blue lace trim. Her room smelled like lavender. It probably lingered in from the bathroom across the hall.

On her dresser that was painted a lavender grayish color was a large white jewelry box, a picture of her dog, Harley, and a little picture of an owl. I thought it was kind of strange to have a picture of an owl in your bedroom. We only had pictures of our family at our house. Maybe Peggy liked owls too.

What I thought was kind of cool was the long table in their kitchen. And it had loaves of fresh bread on it. Homemade jars of jelly and lemon frosted sugar cookies were waiting for us.

I did notice they didn't have a television, but they had a radio. It was playing some country song out of the station in Sioux City. Peggy told me later they were hoping to get a television that summer. I told her she wasn't missing much. My parents had an old brown metal box television and the only show that interested me was the The Andy Griffith Show.

They had lots of books so I was pretty sure they spent a lot of nights reading. I mean, if you don't have television, it's probably good to have a lot of books.

"C'mon Katie! Let's go outside before it gets dark," said Peggy.

"Coming," I said. "I was just looking at all the color in your house, I've never seen so much color. We only have white walls at home and lots of brown furniture."

"My mom likes color, a lot of colors. She says it makes the house alive. Let's bring the rainbows inside, she says," said Peggy.

"Nobody would ever miss seeing your wood stove in your front room," I said with a smile.

We went out back. I was careful not to slam the screen door. My mom hated to hear doors slam, so maybe Peggy's mom would too I remembered thinking anyway.

They had a big backyard that led up to a chicken wire-type fence. We went through the gate that led up to the chicken coop. The further we walked, the more I could tell they had pigs. I saw some cows up over the hill. To the right, was a large garden they had started for onions and garlic, and other vegetables.

And the clothesline with sheets hanging up moving in the breeze. I remember the days before my mom got her first dryer. She used to hang her clothes up too. I still have her bag of clothespins. It's true.

Peggy's family made money off their corn crop and from what cattle they would show and sell at the state fair. Honestly, their lifestyle was so different than mine that I felt I was in another world. They were hard workers.

"Your life is so different than mine," I said to Peggy.

"What do you mean?" she asked.

"Well, you have all this land and stuff growing here and there," I said pointing from left to right. "And, you have all these animals to take care of. I don't have any of this. I just go outside and play hide-n-seek or climb trees. Sometimes I go to the movies with friends."

"Well, you're lucky," said Peggy. "I don't know the last time I went to a movie. Living on a farm is work every day until the food and crops come up, but then you still gotta feed the animals."

After dinner, we both sat on the back porch swing and watched the sun slowly fade. I was stuffed. Homemade cornbread and baked chicken and navy bean soup. No pie for dessert, but that's okay. It was more food than I expected. So good. Peggy didn't even have to wash the dishes since she had company.

There was a warm breeze that carried lifted hair. I listened to the squeaking of the swing as our ankles moved it back and forth. It was the different ambience I felt. It was like I stepped out of my normal into Peggy's normal.

"I can't believe your barn isn't blue or yellow," I said.

"Yeah, my dad said my mom could pick the house colors but the barn was gonna stay barn color," Peggy said as she giggled. "I'll take you to the barn in the morning. You can help me feed the horses. I'm surprised we haven't heard old Barney scream yet."

"Who's Barney?" I asked.

"Barney's our barn owl who can make a lot of noise sometimes especially when it's on a hunt for some mole or mouse," said Peggy. "Sometimes the noise reminds me of tires screeching on the road, you know, like if someone had to slam on their brakes."

"Oh," I said. I was thinking, maybe I won't need to see the barn.

We had some lemon cookies and juice for a snack. Then we went upstairs to change. It was so quiet in the house. We stayed up for about an hour before falling asleep. We talked about school and the other kids. I kept thinking about that orange stove in the living room. Maybe my house needed more color. Maybe the stove was orange because fire is orange.

Barking dogs woke me up in the morning. I rubbed my eyes and looked over at Peggy. She lay there smiling. "Good morning sleepyhead," she said. "I was wondering when you were gonna stir."

"Good morning, what's for breakfast?" I asked. "Is that bacon I smell?"

"Sure is," said Peggy. "Probably bacon and pancakes today since I have a guest but we pretty much have bacon every Saturday morning. Blueberries too if you like them."

"I do," I said as we raced to get dressed and ran downstairs. The table was set with yellow plates and matching yellow plastic cups. Joanie sat a bowl of scrambled eggs on the table next to the owl-shaped salt and pepper shakers. By then, I was completely convinced that Joanie liked owls. I mean everyone likes something. That doesn't make them different. Like I said, I collected keychains.

The sun was shining through the kitchen curtains and the sounds from the backyard were coming through the open backdoor. Best breakfast ever. It was going to be a good summer.

"Thanks for breakfast," I said to Joanie as Peggy and I grabbed our shoes to head outside.

Joanie smiled back at me. Peggy's dad, Jim, was already out in the fields checking on the cows or something.

"C'mon Katie, let's head for the barn. You can help me feed the horses," said Peggy.

"Oh, great," I thought. That owl better not eat me.

The inside of the barn was just like pictures I had seen in the encyclopedia. Lots of hay and old barn wood. Even a pitchfork. I could hear the horses moving around.

"Don't be scared," said Peggy. "We just gotta make sure they have enough water and we give them some carrots from that big bucket over there. And they love hay, so we just shovel it in their bins."

"Okay," I said even though I was a bit nervous. "Is that owl in here?" I asked.

"Oh, you mean Barney?" asked Peggy as she laughed. "Yeah, he's probably in here somewhere, but you don't need to worry about him. He's not going to try to eat you if that's what you're thinkin'."

Well, that was what I was thinking. I kept looking up into the corners of the barn checking to see if it was around.

When we finished up in the barn, we fed the chickens. Then when we went over by the pigs, it was pretty muddy in their pen. They were not clean animals.

We spent so much time out back that I completely lost track of time. Peggy and I checked the clock in the kitchen and it was almost 4:00 which meant I was four hours late in getting home!

I ran upstairs to get my clothes and bag and almost forgot my toothbrush. I just knew for sure I would be in trouble.

"Just call your parents," said Peggy.

They had a black phone. I was surprised it wasn't yellow. I nervously dialed the number and my dad answered. I explained that I was sorry and that I was having so much fun learning about the farm that I forgot to check the time. He wasn't mad at all, just a little concerned and glad I called.

Peggy walked me down to Anderson Street and I told her I could get home from there just fine. Of course, those were the days when it was safe to walk home alone in the daytime. At least it was where we lived.

I never went back to the farm. I don't really know why. I just remember that I learned a lot about Peggy's life and was smart enough to know that it was different than mine. I still think about her though.

When I turned 14, we moved right before winter. I still love lemon cookies and every time I make them now, I think of Peggy and wonder how life's been for her.

She's probably married now running her own farm and painting rooms like her mom did. Maybe she has an orange wood-burning stove too. She probably has a large owl collection by now, maybe. It's funny how we do some of the same things our moms did. I wonder if her mom's still alive. I lost my mom 20 years ago. Funny how time doesn't stand still but memories do.

Short Story

About the author

Cathy Coombs

Earning a B.A. in English Journalism & Creative Writing confirmed my love of literature. I believe every living experience is tied to language. I can't imagine a day without reading or writing. Website:

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