This morning, while running late, I threw water and Quaker quick-cooking oatmeal into a pan, put it on high to force it to cook faster, and tossed in some frozen blueberries. Then I put the scorched pan in the sink to soak for the day while I rushed off to work. Driving down the highway in the snow, I thought of past oatmeal.
As some of you know we lived off grid for several years. We left behind a lowland countryside of small farms where, as kids, we’d build forts with the neighbor’s hay bales. In other words, we weren’t prepared.
Initially my parents lived in a minuscule cabin and I had a homemade, equally minuscule, 5th wheel trailer. With no heat. The first winter I priced propane heaters and made the, by now infamous, statement ‘I’m not paying two hundred dollars for something I’m going to use one or two months out of the year!’.
Some of you already know what happened. I spent a winter going to bed wearing wool leggings that went from ankle to crotch, socks covered by wool socks, a shirt, a flannel nightgown, a robe, a big stack of blankets, and a dog and cat under the blankets. I’d wake to blankets frozen to the wall and my breath frozen on those blankets.
It was not enjoyable. And obviously, I eventually spent two hundred dollars. The heater kept the cat’s bowl from freezing but that was about it.
But anyway, one thing that is still a warm memory from that time period is oatmeal.
My father would get up early and mix steel-cut oats with heavy cream. He’d start a fire in the wood stove and put the pot on the back, where it would slowly simmer for hours.
By the time I came in frozen, the cabin would be warm and the oatmeal hot, thick, and creamy. I’d stand in front of the fire, turning in circles to thaw out each side, and eat breakfast to thaw out from the inside.
I think of that now, and not just because of the difference between his oatmeal and mine. It was a rough way to live in many ways. There were a lot of hardships both emotionally and physically. But as with anything else in life, there were also many good things.
And one of those was a father who would get up on those cold, dark, winter mornings and start a fire.