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Old Friendly warms my heart, as well as my home.

Old friendly keeps me warm, feeds me, comforts me when I'm lonely and welcomes my friends when they visit. Old Friendly is my wood cookstove, and sort-of like one of my dogs, Kedgie and Tigouche-I prepare its food, feed it and clean up after it, but it's well worth the effort.

The many cords of maple and birch in my shed are its food. The wood is deposited in my driveway early in summer, then wheelbarrowed to the shed, where it's piled. This way I am warmed twice: once by piling, once by burning.

There's a fair amount of work involved in using a wood stove. First you have to find someone to provide the kind of wood you want, cut to the right size. Once the wood is delivered it must be piled and protected from the elements. Wood piling is a skill; I've mastered doing it so that the air circulates but the pile doesn't collapse. That was after a few disasters!

Sometimes larger pieces need to be split. I'm fortunate to be surrounded by good friends and neighbours who pitch in when I need help. Or they just stop by for coffee, but on their way into the house they bring an armload or two of firewood. One special friend has assumed the job of "head woodsman"-he splits wood and fills my woodbox; in return I do his laundry. I'm glad I live in a community where we barter our skills and services, and enjoy the company of friends.

Other wood stove tasks include getting kindling to start the daily fire. And the ashes need to be emptied. There's making sure the flue is cleaned to avoid chimney fires-not to mention the frequent cleaning of just about everything in the house.

I grew up in Northern New Brunswick, where we had coal fireplaces, a wood and coal furnace, and a wood cookstove. As a kidlette my jobs were to pile the wood, split kindling, bring in the wood and carry coal up from the cellar. I much preferred these jobs to doing the dishes!

Having reached the age of ripeness, I've experienced a few changes in domestic heating and cooking technology. I recall my grandmother bellyaching about having difficulty regulating the heat of her cookstove-too hot for the bread, not hot enough for the roast. My mother dreamed of a white electric stove, but her technological jump was to enable her wood cookstove to burn oil, with the addition of a Keymac burner.

From their stoves came delectable meals, and such is the case with Old Friendly. Soups don't get any better than when they are simmered on the back of the stove. The oven turns out the tastiest of roasts.

Oh, I haven't always had a wood cookstove. I've lived with gas and electric stoves of various incarnations. Then came microwave ovens. Using these appliances was a functional experience rather than a pleasurable one, and I dreamed of the day I would get a wood stove again.

It happened when my husband and I built our camp… the stove was the first thing to be installed, even before the outside walls were completed. Old Friendly has continued to work its magic, and since my husband's death I have lived with it full time! My home is a blend of new technology and old: I sit at my computer, connected to the Internet via satellite, and cook on my wood stove.

I can tease Old Friendly into producing either a hot fire or one that just keeps the kettle pumping vapour into the air. I select the wood with care. Burning pieces of ironwood from my own property can force me to open windows on the coldest of days. Maple and birch are my everyday choices; poplar is used when a "cool" fire is needed. Working the stove drafts lets me have a hot cooking surface, or keep a low fire going if I plan to be away from home for several hours.

When preparing a meal I like the ease of moving from high to medium to low simply by moving the pan from left to right. The dinner plates in the warming oven are always the right temperature.

With the increasing cost of oil and gas there's a renewed interest in wood as a fuel source. Those of us who burn wood pat ourselves on the back-we use fuel that is renewable, and also locally grown, cut by someone who works in his or her own woodlot.

Although I can extol the virtues of a wood cookstove, it isn't for everyone. Nor is a wood furnace or fireplace insert. I live in the country, a distance from my neighbours. If I still lived in the city, emissions from my stove might be bothersome to others. Even out here I operate my stove so smoke is minimized-I don't want to contribute to air pollution or emit particulate that may hurt friends and fowl.

But it's a trade-off. After a storm, city roads are quickly plowed and power returned to normal. In a rural area unplowed roads and extended power outages are relatively common. I hardly notice. I have heat, hot water and cooked food. Life carries on as normal.

Like most of us as we age, Old Friendly needs a tuck here and a patch there; occasionally a replacement part. It will be a sad day when one of my dogs or my cookstove has to be put down. But I have a replacement in mind for Old Friendly. I recently visited the Enterprise Fawcett foundry in Sackville, NB, and fell in love once again-the Monarch model has me tingling like a teenager.

Sadly, Enterprise Fawcett is the last remaining cast iron foundry in the region. (At one time almost every community was served by a foundry, but things change.) Owner Michael Wheaton bought the foundry in 1995 after having worked there since he was a teenager. He has 48 employees and, in addition to building stoves from scratch, specializes in castings for lumber mills and other local businesses.

The firm has been in business for more than 150 years…that's good enough for me!

In my younger days, when considering choices for husbands (I've had two so far), it was important they be from the Atlantic region. So it is for my next cookstove. Old Friendly is from Elmira, Ont, and has been most loyal; I'm sure the Enterprise potentate will provide the same service.

I'm a cool weather gal…my favourite time of year is when I can get my backside against the wood stove and watch the cold river run past my house, then enjoy what Old Friendly puts on the table. Visitors are welcome!

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