Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Wood Smoke

This morning Jane over at Hard Work Homestead wrote a blog entry about wood heat. It reminded me of something that happened many years ago.

We were still living in Illinois but planning for our move up here to northeastern Minnesota where we knew we would be living for several years without electricity.

I did a lot of sewing but realized my old Sears electric sewing machine wouldn't be of any use once we made the move. One day I saw an ad in the local paper for an old-fashioned treadle sewing machine so I called about it and made an appointment for hubby and me to go see it.

The man and woman who had the sewing machine for sale were quite elderly and lived in a very small house that they heated with wood. We chatted with them for a while and although they didn't in any way complain or tell a sad story, we definitely got the feeling they were having a hard time of it and needed money.

The treadle machine looked to be in great shape including the lovely, old, carved wooden cabinet/table it was mounted in.

We agreed to buy the machine and I asked if the price I remembered from the newspaper ad was the correct amount they wanted.

The old gentleman said yes, they had hoped to get that amount, but if it was too much for us they could perhaps come down a bit.

My husband responded that he thought the sewing machine looked to be in such good condition that it was really worth more than the asking price and insisted on paying the couple a bit more for it. (We may not have had much money ourselves, but we had more than they did!)

We got our prize home and installed it in the living room. Right away I noticed that every time I walked by the machine, I could smell the wonderful aroma of wood smoke. It had been inside the old couple's home for so long that the wood smoke smell was an integral part of the wood.

Silly as it sounds, I found myself dropping to my knees in front of the wood cabinet, nose pressed to the wood and inhaling deeply a couple of times a day. Anyone looking in the window would have thought I was worshiping at an altar. In a way I was. I got into the habit of spending 30-45 minutes first thing every morning sewing on that treadle machine before our one-year old daughter woke up and wanted her breakfast. Nearly forty years later I still think back on and treasure the peaceful start to my day that old treadle machine gave me.


  1. What a lovely story, Mama Pea. Do you still have the sewing machine? This tiny peek into your prior life leaves me wanting to know more about your journey. How long did you homestead without electricity? What adventures do you remember? I was out this morning with the dogs and caught the first whiff of woodsmoke in the air. It just gives me a thrill!

  2. Mom has SO many WONDERFUL stories from "back when", and I'm been begging her to record them / write them down for Y-E-A-R-S! Maybe she'll do it now for YOU, Susan! Keep pestering her, will you? ;)

  3. It is a pleasure that not everyone can appreciate. Some woods burn sweet, some smoke makes you hungry, and some smells awful. But it shows how one smell can unlock a part of the brain that brings far off things back to the present.

  4. Don't worry ChickenMama, sometimes it takes a little shove from another to get where ya wanted that person to be!

    And yes, scents throw us back to cherished memories for certain. I love SkinSoSoft (pink one) because it reminds me of my Grama and I use good old gold Dial soap to this day because it reminds me of summers with my Aunt.

    I would have kneeled before it too MamaPea! What a wonderful story!

  5. Thanks for the tears! What a wonderful story. And Susan, one thing I like about winter is that Mama Pea posts occasional stories from "back when"! I definitely think a book of short stories is in order! I would buy it in a heartbeat!

  6. That is a great story - and I too would like to know if you still have that old machine someplace.

    If you did and you used it once in a while you could burn a few calories along with your quilting :)

  7. Susan - Do I still have the treadle machine? No, dammit! But how I wish I did.

    I'll do a short blog post about our "electrical" system and how it progressed. (It ain't pretty!)

    Hang in there and this winter I'll write up some past adventures and happenings my feeble mind can still conjure up.

    In the meantime, yeah wood smoke!

    Chickie Mama - You know they're all just figments of my imagination. ;o)

    Jane - I've read that of all our senses, it's the sense of smell that is able to make us recall most vividly past experiences.

    Apple Pie Gal - See? See? Dial soap and SkinSoSoft . . . there's a concrete illustration for ya right there!

    Thanks for the compliment.

    Erin - Oh, you flatter me so! If I ever did pull stories into a book, you wouldn't have to buy it.

    Jen - Okay, this is sad. The machine was lost in a barn fire. But they got the horses out and no one was hurt. So that's the important thing.

    Treadling away . . . not only could I burn calories, but I'd have the thinnest ankles in captivity!!

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  9. Loved the story. Thank you! My grandma had a treadle sewing machine which I would have liked to keep just for the beauty of the cabinet and the wrought-iron pedal. Had it smelled like wood smoke, I'da been worshiping at that altar, too.

  10. KTdid - Welcome and thanks for commenting!

    When you think of all the treadle machines there were in homes in this country at one time, you have to wonder what happened to them all. They sure had more character and were a lot more attractive as a piece of "furniture" than sewing machines are today!

  11. Sad about the barn fire, but a good story none the less. I remember that my Mom had an old treadle machine when we still lived in Denmark, but it never made the Atlantic crossing in 1956.

    I also remember that my Mom never could sew, so I wonder where it came from? My Grandmother? Now I really wish it had made the crossing.

    I heat with wood too, and it's becoming that season again. I do have natural gas, but the cost keeps going up, so I use the wood most of the time - it's free! Unless you count all the work ...

  12. Hey Chicken Mama, I actually have two treadles!!! I love the way they sound. One even sits in my living room. I saw a woman on youtube (I think) who actually machine quilted her quilt on the treadle and I believe it was called a 3/4 treadle machine .... never heard of that. Bet you have great control on the stitches with that! So glad that the horses got out of the barn; much more important than the machine. Life over machines, huh? Love your header photo. Shouts FALL!!!

  13. I left a little something for you over at my blog... a well deserved award.


  14. Yvette - Yep, there is a lot of work in heating with wood, but I try to convince myself that it's all good exercise that I need!

    Karen L. - Hi! Hang on to those two treadle machines! (Do they even manufacture them anymore?)

    Yart - Thank you very much. That was very nice of you!

  15. ok so 3 days is a long time for no post from you LOL! Are you okay or just scaling back for winter? I heard there was a dusting of snow there yesterday morning, did you get any photos, or did it not happen near the lake?

  16. Yes, we worry when we don't hear from you, you know. Got your snow plow on?

  17. Erin and Susan - No worry! Just a really busy week. Will go do a short blog post right now so you know I'm still alive and kickin'!