n 1973, my parents moved from High Point to Asheboro to open my mom’s crafts shop. A recession had caused a housing shortage and they couldn’t find anything to buy, so they rented a little white bungalow on Salisbury Street for $70 a month. The house was charming — built in the ’20s, with a wide front porch and French doors that opened from the kitchen to the dining room — and my mother did everything she could to make our home feel warm and cozy. She painted the kitchen a cheerful apple green; draped her crocheted afghans — burnt-orange and gold chevron rays of sunshine — over the back of the sofa; unfurled a wide, off-white shag rug across the hardwood floors in the living room.
The house, though, was old and had little insulation. The windows rattled when the wind blew hard. Cold air seeped in under the front door.
The warmest place in the house was in the hallway, where an oil-fired furnace grate — 3 feet long by 2 feet wide — embedded in the middle of the floor radiated hot air. At night, flannel pajamas on, I stood on top of that grate, right in the center, until the vinyl bottoms of my terry-cloth bedroom slippers started to get sticky, the tic-tac-toe pattern of the grate imprinted on the soles.
On the coldest winter mornings, I got dressed for school in the kitchen, standing in front of the open oven door. My mother got up early to turn on the oven, even though she wasn’t cooking anything, coaxing the old GE to fill the room with as much heat as possible. On Saturday afternoons, she let me sit underneath the dome of her Lady Sunbeam hair dryer, pinprick holes in the hood blowing warm air onto my thick hair, onto my neck, heat lulling me into some kind of thermal contentment, the way you feel when you ease into a hot bath or crawl into a bed with an electric blanket, and I had completely forgotten about those gestures of comfort, of human warmth, until the other night, when my mom brought over an extra carton of Brunswick stew — it’s going to get below freezing tonight; I thought this would warm you up — and images of everything she’s done to care for her family came rushing back.
In our house in winter, there were always extra blankets on the beds; warm towels right out of the dryer; soup always simmering on the stove, or chili, or stew. When my parents finally bought their first house — the one with the brand-new electric heat pump and the wall-to-wall carpet and the brick, wood-burning fireplace — my mother ordered a pallet of firewood that first winter so that my dad could build a fire for us every night.
And when my dad got sick, all those years later, it was my mother who pulled his robe over his shoulders at night, who made sure his feet were covered in the hospital, who helped him sip warm coffee with cream and sugar, who held his hand, and mine, too, for as long as she could, drawing on a lifetime of warmth to help us both weather the winters ahead, the ones that are getting a little easier with each passing year.
Editor in Chief