Article & photos by Marci Narum
On Black Friday, when the stores are buzzing with shoppers and cash registers are working overtime, the Narum family is far away from any retail store and nowhere close to Wi-Fi. The only buzzing sound comes from chainsaws. A log splitter and the coffee pot work overtime.
At one time, some of us did enjoy grabbing the day-after-Thanksgiving deals, but more than 10 years ago, two of my older brothers Mark and Jeff suggested a new family tradition, and over time, the day after “turkey day” was no longer known as Black Friday. We’ve renamed it Stack Friday.
The farm where we grew up is still considered “home,” and nothing warms a home quite like a wood-burning stove. My parents have had one for as long as I can remember. At ages 85 and 80, despite any aches or pains, the drive to work hard and keep going still burns within these amazing people, but even hard-working people need to slow down at some point and let their kids do the heavy lifting for them. Stack Friday is the day we put up wood to keep the fire in the stove burning and Mom and Dad warm through the winter.
Similar to Black Friday shoppers, my brothers begin planning and setting a strategy for Stack Friday well in advance.
“Jeff is going to cut more trees and haul them out to the farm this week,” Mark says. “When are you and Jim planning to be there? Will you ask Jim to bring his chainsaw?”
Jeff does a lot of the advance work, finding dead trees on Mom and Dad’s property or the neighbors’ and taking them to the farm weeks or even a month or two before Stack Friday.
My oldest brother Tim is retired and lives in the Twin Cities. He misses out on the fun of Stack Friday, but every trip home in summertime or fall, he will cut wood to help us prepare for the big day.
Mark, a natural leader, is usually in charge and delegates the Stack Friday tasks. He puts someone on the chainsaw to cut the trees into logs and one or two people to toss the logs into the pickup truck or onto the flatbed trailer. There’s one person working the gas-powered log splitter, with one helper handing him logs, another picking up the split pieces, and a third stacking the logs in the storage areas. Dad drives the tractor, delivering logs to the log splitter in a bucket loader. I think this makes him happy. My parent’s dog Bullet doesn’t let Dad out of his sight. If he could help, too, he would.
My nephews Chris, Brandon, and Tyler, young and limber, help by tossing and catching the split logs and stacking them into the grain bins that, years ago, were filled with wheat, durum, or barley from the harvest (when my brothers and I were younger and more limber).
We spend a good part of the day cutting, splitting, and stacking wood. Mom fixes hearty meals for us, keeps the coffee going, and of course, comes out to help with the stacking or to tell us it’s time for a break, which is hard to turn down because she has baked something delicious. The breaks don’t last long though; that drive to work hard and keep going is in all of us. If we don’t finish on Friday, the job will carry over into Saturday. (To keep with the theme, I suppose we should call it Stackurday.)
Stack Friday (and Stackurday) make for long hours of work, especially on wintery days. I’ve seen icicles hanging from Mark’s beard and ice-cover eyebrows and eyelashes on my husband’s mostly-covered face. Some years, we’ve enjoyed sunshine and had very little snow on the ground.
Whatever the weather, and despite sore muscles and some scrapes here and there, it’s become the perfect way to spend Thanksgiving weekend. That’s not something I would have said when I was much younger. Hauling, cutting, splitting, and stacking wood was a regular chore on the farm, and I’m sure I did more than my share of complaining about it. But, as it is with many things, the sounds of something you’ve done over and over again become part of you. The smells of the experience trigger memories. Even the chainsaw at work — its exhaust in the brisk winter air — makes me think of home. I can recall the sound of spilling an armful of split logs into a box, like a bowling ball hitting all 10 pins. And, the smell of wood burning in the stove will always be a reminder of home, along with the squeaking sound the stove door makes every time someone opens it. The memories give me comfort and warm me like glowing embers.
The stove was a saving grace for our family, especially during power outages. I’ll always remember the spring ice storm that knocked out power for several days. I was in fifth grade and had to sit by the stove in the morning to dry my hair. It didn’t work. My hair was a wreck, but I was warm, and there were much bigger things to worry about — the two dozen cows that needed to be milked twice a day. Thankfully, a generous neighbor had an extra backup generator for my dad to use.
There was a time my parents made coffee on the wood stove — whether it was out of necessity or because they wanted to, I’m not sure. And, I seem to recall making popcorn one time on that old wood stove. The area around the stove was also the place to dry wet shoes and boots, gloves, scarves, and coats. On really cold winter nights, I would sit by the stove to warm my feet after doing chores.
Hauling and stacking wood was a chore I didn’t care for when I was young, but I helped my dad by carrying armfuls of wood to the house or pulling a large sled filled with a load of logs to the house. Now, I don’t consider it a chore, but a choice — to spend time with my family and enjoy some good hard work that will result in a warm home for Mom and Dad.
Given the choice, I would rather pull that heavy sled full of logs on Stack Friday than push a shopping cart on Black Friday. It’s time well-spent and a gift my family gives to each other. No refunds or exchanges.
Marci is the owner and publisher of Inspired Woman magazine. She grew up on a farm near Douglas helping her parents raise dairy and beef cattle and small grains. She still gets homesick for the farm.