As usual I awoke before my husband, padded downstairs and started writing. When I heard him stirring, I went back up to the bedroom. "Happy stove day!" I trilled excitedly.
"Happy stove day," he replied back with a sleepy smile.
It was December and the early morning was stormy, but it grew warm and clement by afternoon. An hour or so before lunchtime the rain stopped as though a faucet had been turned off and the slate-gray clouds whirled away with a speed usually only seen in time-lapse photography. Their disappearance revealed a flawless topaz-blue sky. The temperature soared up to the mid 60s and it felt more like late March than the middle of December. It was a truly bizarre patch of weather, but one for which we were profoundly grateful.
The stove was scheduled to arrive between 11 a.m. and 4 p.m. As the clock's hands crept towards eleven we grew increasingly excited about the appliance's impending arrival.
When 2 p.m. came and there was still no sign of delivery, I told Gabriel the delivery company had better hurry. "They've only got two hours left!" I pointed out.
"I know!" Agreed my husband. "They better not have been delayed, because this weather would be utterly perfect for unpacking the stove."
He looked out at the spring-like day. It was warm, dry and beautiful—perfect weather to unpack and carry in a large object. The stove was being shipped in pieces in a large crate.
At three-thirty we repeated our comments about the shipping company hurrying. They only had half an hour!
3:57—Only three minutes!
The sun was already low in the sky at this point, at forty-eight degrees northern latitude and only a few weeks from the winter solstice. "It's gonna suck to unload the stove in the dark!" Gabriel groaned.
"I know," I grumbled. "And we had such perfect weather this afternoon, too."
"Utterly perfect!" Gabriel agreed.
At four-thirty he called the shipping company. They told him that the stove was on its way, but apparently the deliveryman was delayed: There had been an accident on the Hood Canal Bridge, and he'd had to wait for hours while the wreckage was sorted out and cleared.
We watched out the bayview window of our parlor, tapping our toes with impatience. It was well past dark when the truck carrying the stove finally arrived, but we turned on our Tesla-inspired porchlight and the moon and stars helped a little. The deliveryman brought the crate as close to our front gate as his motorized dolly could travel.
I thought about what a long wait the man must have had for the bridge to be cleared, then ran inside the kitchen and came back with a slice of home-made sourdough bread, still warm from the oven. He thanked me and held the slice up to his nose, inhaling its aroma. "It smells great!" He said hungrily.
I grinned. "Not as great as it'll taste when I can bake it in this!" I asserted, patting the crate containing the much-anticipated stove.
The deliveryman smiled, wished us luck and left us to our task.
The crate was made of heavy-duty wooden pressboard, and disentombing the stove proved to be a process of prying the crate to bits with a crowbar. Our first view of the stove was a glimpse of many small parts, each individually mummified in gray packing paper. Most weren't very heavy, and I started carrying them inside one by one while Gabriel was still dismantling the crate.
Besides the cushioning paper, the various stove bits were entwined with a great deal of plastic wrap resembling the silken funereal wrappings spiders twist about their prey, but writ large. I brought out a pair of kitchen scissors and cut at the plastic coccoon. As I disentangled more small pieces I continued to carry them into the house piecemeal. It was impossible to tell what most of them were, since the paper mummification gave the majority of them anonymity. The flat, perfectly round shape of the lids for the stove's eyes made them recognizable and the oven door was fairly obvious, but most of the other pieces were abstract mummies wound in dry paper. We carried them inside and set them all over the floor. When we ran out of room in the kitchen we moved out into the dining room, then the parlor, until the ground level of our house looked like all the treasures of a pyramid had been laid out there and were awaiting unwrapping. At last only two pieces remained, but these were the largest and heaviest by far. Together Gabriel and I managed to carry in the 34" x 24" x 14" cast-iron base of the stove, with its delicately arching legs, but the main stove body was too much for us. Besides the cast iron which formed the body of the stove, this section held the firebox with its heavy, built-in heat bricking. (Unlike some twentieth-century wood-burning stoves, the heat bricking in our 1890s model is not removable.) Gabriel and I budged it a few inches with him lifting the heavier end, then he insisted we get help.
I looked at him in slight bemusement. "Umm, who?" I had been asking my husband to find someone to help carry in the stove since we had ordered it. Zero-hour when the stove was unpacked and everyone was at dinner seemed like a bad time to be begging favors.
After a slightly pained discussion, the task of finding help devolved to me.
My really good friends are scattered across several time zones and the only way for them to help would have been by telekinesis, which was obviously not a viable option. I wracked my brain for people within walking distance who would be willing to help carry several hundred pounds of iron—and capable of doing so. I doubted any of my lady friends could lift any more weight than I could, so I started asking myself who had capable-looking boyfriends or husbands.
I recalled that a couple around our age lived a few blocks away in an apartment above a garage. Heidi was a tea-maven at my favorite tea shop downtown and had come over to our house once to see our collection of antique clothes. I'd only met Landon briefly, but (with my memory sharpened by the weighty stove), I recalled that he had looked strong. I had never actually visited them before, but I had passed by their home a few times when they were unloading groceries from their car and I thought I could find it again. I hoped I could—and moreover that they would be home.
In a state of slight embarrassment, I set out to find their vaguely-remembered residence in the dark. My spirits weren't too low though: The stove had arrived and it was an uncannily warm night, beautiful and filled with stars. It was absolutely perfect for a stroll. As for this little snafu, I judged that everything happens for a reason and Gabriel and I were mighty lucky it wasn't raining. The idea of a beautifully refurbished cast-iron stove sitting out in a downpour would have given the situation an urgency I was very happy to do without. As I wandered Uptown Port Townsend looking for Heidi's home I gazed up at the constellations and offered thanks to my lucky stars.
Even before I found Heidi's place I knew that locating it was only part of the problem. I had only passed by it before, and I had no idea where the access portal was. For all I knew, the only door to the apartment above the garage might be through the car dock itself; if this was the case presumably they would keep it slightly open when they were expecting guests, but I was far from expected.
When I arrived at what I thought was Heidi's home (although I wasn't entirely certain) I was encouraged to see lights on in the apartment. "Good, she's home," I thought. "—Assuming this is the right place and I'm not going to befuddle some stranger I've never seen before."
I found a door on the north side of the garage and knocked, tentatively at first then with more force. There was no response—which didn't surprise me, since the garage was a particularly tall one and I really couldn't imagine there as any chance of Heidi and Landon hearing me. I looked up at the brightly-lit window above me. "They're here!" I told myself, frustrated. "There must be a way..."
I walked back around to the west side of the garage. Peering up at the window which faced the street, I discovered another reason to be grateful for the bizarrely unseasonable weather. It was December, but the night was so beautiful and warm that Heidi had her window open.
"Heidi?" I called up questioningly, still not entirely sure this was the right place. I honestly hadn't been paying all that much attention to the location when I'd happened upon her several months previously.
On the world's stages, Romeo calling up to Juliet's window is one of theaters most romantic scenes. This real-life parody of the situation was more of a farce. "Heidi?" I cupped my hands around my mouth and called louder.
An ivory face framed by wavy dark hair appeared through the delicate curtains. Relief rushed through me: This was Heidi's home! I waved frantically.
A frown creased her pretty brow as her blue eyes peered into the darkness.
"Heidi!" I called again. "It's Sarah!"
Her expression relaxed as she saw me. "Oh, Sarah!" She clasped a relieved hand over her heart. "You scared me!" She smiled. "Come up, come up!" She pointed towards the southern end of the garage, to steps and a door I hadn't seen before on the side of the building opposite my initial approach.
I followed her directions and found Heidi and Landon engaged in cooking dinner, with their young son napping on the couch. (I was relieved to see that Landon was even taller and more muscular than I remembered. He looked like a man to whom carrying a stove wouldn't be much of an issue. Yay!) I apologized for bothering them and explained the situation. Landon smiled and said he would be happy to help.
"This has to simmer," Heidi told me, pointing at a delicious-smelling saucepan of something bubbling happily on the stove. "—But we'll be right over."
"I'd offer to give you a ride," Landon said with a grin. "But I know how you feel about that."
I laughed. I've never had a driver's license and I rarely accept rides. It's not really a moral issue; I just honestly prefer to walk or ride my bike. Besides, it was a lovely evening.
I thanked Landon and Heidi profusely then left them to their simmering dinner, thinking how lucky it was that their window had been open. I walked home through the starlight and the little family arrived a few minutes after I did. Their little boy Warren gave me a sleepy smile from his perch on the crook of his mother's arm and Landon introduced himself to Gabriel.
Carrying the stove inside only took the men a few minutes, and while the task was undertaken I showed Heidi the various stove pieces scattered around the ground floor. She was enthralled and kept exclaiming how beautiful it was.
When Landon and Gabriel had set the main body of the stove on its cast iron legs, Warren's eyes grew wide. "Hot!" The little boy said softly, holding out a hand towards the stove. "Hot!"
Heidi smiled at her son. "Yes, that's going to be hot!" She agreed.
"Hot." The child repeated in the same soft voice. "Hot."
I thought this was incredibly adorable, not to mention insightful. The Charm Crawford looked so very different from a modern stove, I wondered how the child had intuited its purpose. Later I asked Heidi if he had seen a stove like it before and she shook her head. "He's never seen a cast iron one," she told me. I was left to wonder: Had he seen one in a cartoon or picture book? Or was the power of the stove such that even a child could tell its purpose? It's tempting to believe the last theory, but I suppose we'll never really know.
I had bought some candy canes earlier in the day as Christmas ornaments, and I asked Heidi if it was okay to give her son one.
"I don't think he's ever seen a candy cane before!" She smiled.
I plucked the sweet off our Christmas tree and gave it to the child. He examined it with intrigued curiosity.
With our many thanks, Heidi's family hurried back to their abandoned dinner while Gabriel and I set about assembling the three-dimensional puzzle that was the stove. Cast iron is strong in some ways but it is brittle, so we handled all the pieces with great care.
"Now, as I understand it," Gabriel said, twisting a bolt through two corresponding holes. "These fastenings are supposed to be hand-tight because the metal will expand when it heats, so if they're wrench-tight the tension can make the metal crack."
"That makes sense," I said, unwrapping a round cast iron disk—one of six lids for the stoves' eyes. (Eyes are the holes on top of a wood stove.) "Cracking is bad."
"Cracking is bad," Gabriel agreed. "Cracking is very bad. Because this—" he stood back, admiring the large piece of functional art that was the stove. "—Is beautiful."
I agreed and unwrapped one of the smallest pieces. "This looks like a cast iron dog biscuit," I commented, holding it up.
"I think that's the foot pedal." Gabriel took it from me and used its lynchpin to attach it to the bottom of the oven door. He stood and gently tapped the pedal with the toe of his boot. The oven door swung open.
"Whoah!" I exclaimed, entranced. "Now that's undeniably cool!"
"It's so that you can put something in the oven with both hands and not have to put anything down," Gabriel explained, shutting the door.
"It's brilliant!" I declared, toe-tapping the oven door open, shutting it, opening it again. "Why don't modern ovens do this?"
Gabriel shrugged. "Maybe some do and we just don't know about it."
I spent the next ten minutes opening and shutting my oven door.
"Do you know what's downstairs?" I asked with a grin when I came back to the bedroom.
"That's right!" he smiled, wiping sleep from his eyes. "The stove!"
"The hearth is home."—Richard Jefferies. After London. 1885, chapter 4.
The kitchen was the heart of a Victorian home, the bastion of its queen. Here a woman ruled supreme, determining the "weal or woe" (as Mrs. Beeton would have described the joys or sorrows) of the people under her charge. So strongly was the kitchen under woman's dominion that occassionally men would write into ladies' magazines pleading that they might be of some small service there, if only they were allowed to help.
Even today kitchens retain their role as "command centers" — an apt descriptive term used by a group of UCLA archaeologists who meticulously documented the home activities of Los Angeles families in the early twenty-first century. The researchers found that the kitchen was "the single-most intensively used space" in their study: The families who participated in the 2001-2005 research project spent 48% of an intensely documented period of time in their kitchens. (They were in family rooms 20% of the time—most of this was spent watching television or using computers—and in upstairs bedrooms 18% of the hours studied.) These were modern families, with cupboards and refrigerators overflowing with supposedly time-saving microwaveable minute meals. The kitchen's dominance over the social life of the household was even more pronounced in the nineteenth century when the mistress of a household was usually its baker-in-chief.
At the center of this nucleus of the home was the heart of the heart, the appliance around which the entire home revolved: the stove. The stove held the household's most constantly-burning fire and made the kitchen the warmest room in a home. Man-made and woman-tended, a stove was a precision machine, but it was more than that. It was an entity which demanded regular sacrifices in the form of fuel (wood, coal or gas) and in return it enabled the creation of sustenance for all within its domain. In pagan terms, and in terms which nineteenth century Britons would have appreciated, the stove was a household god. Caring for its needs and receiving its bounty, a lady could rightfully see herself as a link in a powerful chain of women stretching back to the priestesses of Hestia's temples in Ancient Greece and beyond.
Gazing at the Charm Crawford, I longed to join those illustrious ranks.
 The Antique Stove Hospital. <http://stovehospital.com>
 For examples of this, see "The Kitchen Apron. When It Did Good Service On A Man." Good Housekeeping. January 19, 1889. p. 136. (page 155 of the digitized pdf version of this magazine available from Google Books Advanced Search) and "A Man In The Kitchen: The Difference Between A "Betty" And The Other Kind." Good Housekeeping. February 16, 1889. p. 178. (page 197 of the digitized pdf version of this magazine available from Google Books Advanced Search)
 Arnold, Jeanne E. et al. Life At Home In The Twenty-First Century: 32 Families Open Their Doors. UCLA: The Cotsen Institute of Archaeology Press, 2012. pp. 3, 81, 92.
"... [T]he Charm Crawford of the Royal line, now being made by the Walker & Pratt Mfg. Company, Boston, Mass... represents the company's largest and most costly style, having a full size square oven, it being of the same dimensions at the top as at the bottom. The oven top is sectional and will not crack, while the oven bottom is nonwarping and fitted with removable panels, thus giving easy access to the lower flues. The fire box is extra large, the ash pan is of good capacity, the means for removing soot are convenient, and the broiler door is of ample size. A noticeable feature... is the position of the handles of the doors; instead of being placed midway of their hight [sic] they are near the upper edge, where they are within more convenient reach of the cook, as the doors can be opened when standing more nearly in an upright position. All Royal ranges have the company's patented single damper, which can be easily removed from the range. In connection with the ovens it may be stated that the oven rack is adjustable ... in the Charm Crawford at two hights [sic] above the oven bottom. This is a convenience which cannot fail to be appreciated on a busy baking day.
Another feature... which is worthy of more than passing mention is the manner in which the detachable guard rails are placed, they being separated from the stove by a little space and kept cool by a constant circulation of air behind them. All the nickeled guard rails and other parts are plated and finished at the Crawford factory. Nearly all Crawford ranges are now sold with mantels, the new style double mantles having two shelves, thus affording increased space as compared with the old style. All mantels are fitted with removable nickeled rails and match the range in design. The upper flue of the ranges is made with a special form of cup joint division to prevent the leakage of heat and to insure quick baking. A simmering cover is furnished with each range and may be used in any location on the top of the stove.
The Charm Crawford of the Royal line is one of the company's most popular grades, and while a trifle smaller than the Home style, includes all the features of the other patterns, such as the single damper, heat indicator, dock ash grate, &c. The triple oven back consisting of two thicknesses of metal with asbestos between makes the oven heat quickly, improves the baking and saves coal. The oven top is plastered, as well as the bottom of the flue beneath the oven. The Crawford ranges are made in all sizes and with all attachments..."
 [No author.] The Metal Worker, Plumber and Steam Fitter. September 30, 1905. p. 73.