An Ode to the Stove

What’s the center of Thanksgiving activities? The kitchen, of course. (If you answered football … no pumpkin pie for you!)

Here’s an essay written by Susie Doyle, who grew up in the house at 543 Walnut Hill Road, three doors up from Parsonage Road. She remembers that the kitchen, and the stove, were the heart of the Doyle’s house.

Susie’s home in 1956 after the Doyle family first moved to North Yarmouth.

Susie’s father Stanley ran Doyle’s Oil Co.; some remember his bright green truck pulling into their driveway to fill up an oil tank back in the 1960s and 1970s. Susie’s mother Betty Mahar Doyle was a expert juggler: she kept the books for Stan’s business and worked several different jobs outside the home, all while overseeing a family of eight active kids.

Stan and Betty Doyle, sitting on the front steps of the house.

Susie went back in time to her growing-up days and wrote this wonderful memory of her house and family. Happy Thanksgiving, everybody, and crank up that stove!

* * *

The Doyle family hasn’t lived in our Walnut Hill house since 1978. But I still have many “warming” (literal and metaphorical!) memories of our kitchen stove.

The big chimney of our house, on the south end, served two purposes. One side was connected to the fireplace in the dining room. And on the other side, the chimney was hooked up to our kitchen stove.

I remember coming into the kitchen after school, on a freezing winter late afternoon. I’d open the door and would be hit by the intense heat radiating from the stove. That heat was so enveloping and reliable; I knew it would be there waiting for me and I could feel it all the way as I hurried home.

Next, I did what all us Doyle kids did on arrival, something I’ve continued to do with any woodburning stove I’ve owned. I’d peel off my wet, snow-covered mittens and give that stove a good flogging! It was fun to hear the sizzling drops of water and watch the beads dancing across the piping hot burner covers. This is really heady stuff!

And, what greeted our eyes and noses when opening the door was the sight and smell of the seemingly bottomless pot full of homemade hot cocoa sitting on the stove! Mama would have it waiting for us in a large, copper-bottomed kettle (which I might still have). She’d have made it with dry cocoa from the big brown Hershey’s can and evaporated milk. Oh, that was the best.

My mother in the kitchen. You can just barely see the edge of the stove at lower left.

I have a clear and endearing memory of the smells that generated from the stove when Mama was hard at it. She was like a restaurant cook, dishing up humongous feasts on short order, and she worked that oven like a violin. Of course she cooked without precise measures. And that method matched the temperature gauge on the oven’s front door. The gauge wasn’t exactly true … but it didn’t matter, because she knew instinctively what temperatures she needed to cook by—boy, did she ever!

I can hear her still when one of us kids needed cooking instructions or when she was asked to share a recipe or a successful cooking tip. Just bake it for such and such amount of time, she’d say. In a hot or medium hot oven. “Mama?!” I’d respond in disbelief. After only a couple hundred times, I finally got it.

Our kitchen wasn’t terribly large—it was far from the biggest room in the house—but it certainly felt sizable, since it easily accommodated a large crowd. It was the preferred gathering spot for us and for the constant flow of friends and neighbors who were always dropping in.

That stove was our security blanket, a wonderful friend to sit with. The coffee pot was “always on,” and there were often leftovers on the stovetop or something going on in the oven: baked beans, pies, cakes, cookies, rice pudding, bread pudding. There were fried doughnuts or fried dough balls in the deep cast iron kettle on Saturdays. Oh my, this is too much to be missing!

On Thanksgiving Day the stove got a real workout. The poor thing would be going full bore, all gas burners and kerosene tops full up with kettles and the oven with the beautiful, 30+ pound golden bird.

One year, a large platter full of fried chicken was left sitting on top the stove. We’d all been out and about, and when we came home, the platter was quite empty. The mystery was not resolved until a little later in the evening when Mama decided to go up to bed. She wondered what was under her lumpy pillow—and discovered that our dog, Becky, had taken every piece of chicken and, instead of devouring it like any self-respecting dog, she’d gone into the bedrooms and buried the pieces under all our pillows.

I think the yelling was heard all the way to Freeport!

A glimpse of a Doyle Thanksgiving with some of the kids: Betty Ann, Ross, Linda, Laura and Barbara.
My brother Arthur’s cat almost made it to the table! Those chairs were borrowed from Wescustogo Grange Hall. And I remember that Mom got those plates, piece by piece, at the grocery store.