Gas Fires and Quilts on a Cold Morning

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The Sam & Pearl Wren Family – 1906

This is the only photo I have ever seen that includes Sam and Pearl Wren and their whole family.  Sam Scott Wren and Pearl Hudson married in February 1900.  Almost exactly nine months later, their first daughter, Mildred Wren, was born.  She’s on the far right in this picture.  Then came Norvelle in 1902 (on the far left).  Little Marion (in the middle) was born in 1904.  (I never heard Norvelle and Mildred say anything but “little Marion” when they talked about her.) But, where’s Hudson, the youngest?  When I look at this picture, it looks to me like Pearl is pregnant, and that would be Hudson!  And that would be the only photo of all four of the children that I have ever seen.

I remember going to Prescott and staying at Norvelle’s house.  That was the house that Pop (Sam) built years before and where she and Grannie (Pearl) lived.  Norvelle never married and stayed at home with her parents, working at the Prescott Federal Savings and Loan.  Mildred and her husband Henry Whitten lived just across the road.

The house didn’t have any kind of central heat.  Instead there were gas fires in every room that did a nice job of keeping the whole house warm. In the summer time, the windows were open and there were ceiling fans.  In later years, there were window air conditioners in a few rooms.  But, in the cold weather, there were the gas fires.  And they could keep things very toasty.

Norvelle never liked to have the gas fires on at night, though.  As kids, we would go to be on the back sleeping porch – that’s what it was, not really a bedroom but a porch where you could get the breeze and sleep comfortably.   When Norvelle went to bed, she would turn all the gas fires off.

Then at some point in the night, Norvelle would wake up.  With the fires off and no insulation, the house would be cold.  So, Norvelle would worry that you might be cold and  come around and put about twenty-seven quilts on top of you so that you were so weighted down that you could not move.  Then at five o’clock, she would get up to start her day.

And turn the gas fires back on.

It wasn’t too long after that that I would wake up in a hot house and I couldn’t move!  The house would be extra warm, but I still had the twenty-seven quilts weighing at least fifty pounds piled on top of me!

So, what’s the point?  Norvelle never liked the fires on at night because she was worried about fire.  And with good reason.

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Marion Wren, 1904-1906, Harmony Cemetery, Sutton, Nevada County, Arkansas

This is not only the only picture I have of the whole family, but I think it’s one of just one or two that I have of little Marion.  And there’s a good reason for that.

 

One day after her little brother Hudson was born, Marion, only two years old herself, was leaning over the crib playing with the baby, as Norvelle and Mildred told it.  The crib must have been near enough the gas fire to stay warm.  Turns out it was tragically too close.  Marion’s little dress caught fire and she was burned to death.  She’s buried in the Harmony Church Cemetery in Sutton, Nevada County, Arkansas.  Her marker shows her short life.

I guess from that time forward, there was a healthy fear of fire in that house.  And that’s why we would wake up under a mass of quilts, lovingly placed, in a 80 degree house on lots of mornings.

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