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WARMING ONESELF WITH A WOOD STOVE AND MEMORIES OF COWBOY HEROES

Saturday evening wore down, but not the wind. It whistled around the corners of the house and hissed as it tore past the windows. Kathleen and I sat reading and dozing in the living room. After midnight, I said I was going up to bed, and she shuddered, anticipating how chilly our bedroom would be, located as it is on the windward side of our old house.

I knew she was right and stretched out on the couch under a blanket. I fell asleep listening to the furnace laboring against the cold. When I opened my eyes, it was 4 o'clock. I padded down the stairs and filled the furnace with wood. Coming back up into the kitchen, I put the kettle on to make a cup of tea, feeling as awake as if it were midmorning.

While the water heated, I stepped out the back door to look at the night. The wind was still strong, but a dime-size moon hung motionless in the sky. I didn't stand there long admiring it.

I wadded up some newspapers, laid kindling in the living room stove and struck a match, the sulfurous odor hanging in the air. I made the tea and went back into the living room to sit by the stove. Its black iron parts clinked as they heated and shifted against themselves. It reminded me of a poetic phrase I read long ago: "The fire tolled like a bell inside the stove." It's funny what we remember from the millions of things we see and hear in a lifetime.

The stove grows hotter and the tea cooler as I sit and think. Night thoughts are different from day thoughts for most people. I run through things worth worrying about. The cows gave us a half an hour's adventure after one of them pushed through a wire gate and a bunch of them cavorted about the yard in all directions. A couple of young men driving by stopped and helped us get them back in. They were local guys whose names I didn't learn but to whom we are most grateful.

I would have to find out why the charge in the fence was weak, fix it and re-educate the cows.

I worried that out, then weighed some financial questions. If I sold a dozen open cows, it could pay for the nine bred cows a fellow offered to sell us. If their calves sold for 80 cents a pound next fall, would it make the exchange worth the trouble?

We've been looking at a portable sawmill, a machine we have always dreamed about owning. With it we could mill lumber for a barn addition, even build a garage with clapboard siding, all harvested from our own woods. We could sell lumber. But we could also live without it. Which assets are better: those kept in the bank or those parked in the barn?

Night thoughts are by nature conservative. We probably should pass it by. But when would we find a used mill in such good shape as this one and just 30 miles away?

I moved back a little from the stove. The song "Happy Trails to You" slides into my head, prompted by reading of Dale Evans' passing. The '50s were the Age of the Cowboy. As children, nothing absorbed us as completely as the fantasy of the West. My heroes were Roy Rogers and the Lone Ranger. I admired the way they were patient and resourceful and somehow saved the day without killing people, though they might find it necessary to "wing" the bad guy while shooting the gun out of his hand. The cowboys defended people who were in need of defending.

I also admired their outfits. I was a skinny kid who had to wear clothes bought oversize for me to grow into. Roy and the Lone Ranger had snug-fitting pants. I had clunky corduroys that must have weighed as much as I did. They had boots with tall heels and pointy toes. I was shod in scuffed Buster Browns.

Once my father had a bulldozer come to clear land. When the machine pushed up big piles of stumps and boulders, we discovered fantastic landscapes for our Western adventures. We'd crouch behind obstacles and unload our cap guns at bad guys. I don't remember singing "Happy Trails" as we trotted into lunch, but I always felt good when Roy and Dale harmonized to it while riding off on Saturday afternoons. It meant all was well with the world. It was comforting in those dread-filled years of the Cold War.

Thoughts come and go in the night. I add some wood to the small stove and turn the damper back a little. The wind is whistling softer now and has gone off to wherever it goes before Sunday morning dawns.

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