My neighbor told me the other day that if you have a fire in your fireplace before Thanksgiving you are a wimp. Then added that he himself had indeed had a fire during wimp season. I didn’t tell him, but I did too.
Early man must have been ecstatic when they figured out what fire could do for them. Light, safety, cooking, warmth. Just to name a few things. Millennia later we still enjoy certain aspects of the power of fire.
My earliest memories are of a split-level house my parents owned in New Jersey. Some very vivid images, but I can’t remember if there was a fireplace. I remember the yard, the neighborhood, the stairs and the lower level family room. And the bathroom downstairs and the garage. Other than the living room I remember nothing of the upstairs.
When we moved to Pennsylvania in 1962 my parents built a new house. It had a fireplace in the living room. During the construction I remember going in and out of the house through the fireplace. Or the hole in the wall where the fireplace would be. We had to walk across a board that spanned the hole in the ground that would serve as the ash chute. I was in kindergarten.
That fireplace was often lit with a burning log. My dad let me crunch up old newspapers to build a base to start it. He managed the wood. On a winter’s night we would sit in front of the fire and read Shakespeare’s plays out loud. Or watch the colorful flames dance. Or wish that school would be cancelled because of the snowstorm raging outside.
They waited until I graduated from high school to move again. This time into an old farmhouse in the country. And yes, it had a giant stone fireplace. I was in college by the time the first winter rolled around and I don’t remember there being a lot of fires in that fireplace. My father preferred to sit in the kitchen next to the blazing coal stove. But at Christmas there was always a burning Yule log in the fireplace.
The various apartments I lived in, and the first home I owned did not have a fireplace. On a cold, cold day I missed that burning warmth. So when I bought my second house I made sure it had a fireplace. I didn’t use it that much because by this time I had infant children in the house. But one winter the power went out and I had to light the fireplace off to provide any heat in the house.
Part of the joy, and nuisance, of building a fire is that you have to build it, and tend it. So, in my next house I had not just one fireplace built, but two, both with gas logs. Flip it on and off at will. Want a fire for fifteen minutes? No problem! The main fireplace saw endless service! Almost every night from Thanksgiving until Easter, and often on a weekend during the day, that fire was burning. It was warm and tantalizing.
The house I’m in now, after “downsizing”, has a wood stove inserted in the fireplace. That thing will crank out some heat. And although I don’t light it up as often as I’d like, because you have to build it and tend it and so on, I do enjoy building it and tending it. So I’ll light it up and settle into my lounge chair to feel the warmth and watch the flames.
With all the wonders of fire apparent, I have to remember that it is a powerful force. And it demands respect. I’ve seen scary and destructive fires. It’s a sight you’ll never forget.
Like all of nature, we as humans can enjoy it in many ways, but we have to take care of it. Future generations want to enjoy it too.
That’s part of my story. What’s yours?