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Today is October 20, 2019

Grin 'n' Bare It

The lady and the wood burning cook stove

By Kay Grafe

Kay Grafe
Kay Grafe

I have known Annie Ruth Thigpin for approximately forty years. She was a teacher at Rocky Creek Elementary School when I worked as a speech therapist and traveled to several county schools including Rocky Creek. Annie Ruth taught the fifth grade and was highly respected and well liked by her peers. A few weeks ago, Mr. Roy and I visited Annie Ruth in her home in rural George County to hear her story about the old wood cook stove.

Annie Ruth has lived all of her life on the 80 acres her daddy purchased years ago. When she married, she and her husband, James Thigpin, built a house just a couple hundred feet from where she had lived all of her life.  

Annie Ruth’s father was Ernest Pipkins and her mother was Rhoda McLeod. Both had been raised a few miles north in a Scottish community called Vernal. This area became known as Little Scotland and Annie Ruth’s great great grandfather, Peter McLeod, had come to the area in the early 1800s. The McLeod’s encouraged their children to get an education and Annie Ruth and her mother both graduated from what is now the University of Southern Mississippi, and both were school teachers.   

After we visited and talked about old times, I said, “Annie Ruth, tell me about growing up as a country girl and especially about the old wood cook stove.” She smiled and said, “I was an only child, so I grew up as my mother’s little girl and my daddy’s big girl. I can remember helping my mother do the cooking and housework in the mornings and then following my daddy in the afternoons. I had so much fun helping my daddy, and I especially liked to follow along as he broke ground with a mule and turning plow. I walked in the furrow as that rich George County dirt rolled over.”

Annie Ruth said, “My mother taught e how to cook and that included learning how to use the wood cook stove. You city girls just turned on the electric or gas burner, but I had to learn how to place the wood for different things we were cooking, and how to light it and get the right temperature. There really is an art to cooking on a wood stove.” 

Since my friend mentioned that all I had to do was turn on the oven or burner on our electric stove, that sparked a ton of other questions. “When did you get electricity in your house?” I asked. She thought a minute and said, “I believe it was in 1947.” 

“Well then,” I replied, “you could just turn your electric stove on and start cooking.” Annie Ruth laughed and said, “My mother and daddy did buy an electric iron, refrigerator and a few other appliances but they would not consider getting rid of that old wood stove.” I asked, “Annie Ruth, just how many more years did your parents continue to cook that way?” Annie Ruth got a big smile on her face and said, “All of their lives. It was my mother’s job to get up first and light the stove. So by the time my daddy got up, the kitchen was warm and breakfast was started. When she got too old and unable to get the fire going, I took over that task. I would go up to the old house every morning before school and get the stove ready for her to use.” 

Annie Ruth’s mother died in 1991. 

“I retired from teaching to take care of daddy and cook his meals on the wood stove,” she said. “By this time he was too old to cut and split the wood, so he taught me how to split it. Daddy passed away in 1994 and my husband James and I closed up the old house and I began cooking again on the electric stove in our house. After a few days, James said, ‘Food doesn’t taste good anymore, I believe you need to go back to cooking on the old wood stove.’ So that’s what we did for over ten years after daddy died.” But when Annie Ruth’s husband died in 2004, she again closed up the old house and retired the old wood cook stove.

I asked Annie Ruth if there was anything she would like to tell my readers, and she said, “I have had a wonderful life, wonderful parents, thirty great years teaching young minds and playing the piano in my church, and I’ve continued to live right here.”

Then she grinned and said, “But I sure do miss that old wood stove and its wonderful food.”

Kay Grafe is the author of “Oh My Gosh, Virginia.” To order, send name, address, phone number and $16.95, plus $3.50 S&H to Kay Grafe, 2142 Fig Farm Road, Lucedale, MS 39452.

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