HOME AND HEARTH
When we built our family home, my dad insisted on a “real” fireplace - none of that prefab stuff for him. It had to be all brick and very big. We cut cost on other things so we could have this fireplace. It has an 24” hearth, a railroad tie for the mantle and will burn a log almost 4’ long.
We couldn’t wait for it to be finished so we could build a fire. We three children had never had a fireplace and the excitement was high to say the least. At last the day arrived and Daddy got ready to show us how to build a fire. A little paper first, a few pieces of small kindling on top of that and, finally, some thin logs when it got started. We had to start small until we were sure the chimney was going to “draw” the smoke out. He explained which woods made the best sounds and smells and to never, ever burn pine logs because the creosote would coat the inside of the chimney and could cause an explosion. We could only use pine as kindling. He was part owner of a cabinet shop and we always had scrap wood for this purpose.
The fireplace worked and we were thrilled. It’s amazing how much joy can come from the simplest of things and even more amazing how hot it is with a fire burning in a new house in August. Yes, August, We just couldn’t wait any longer. Daddy would never admit it, but he was just as anxious as we were.
That fireplace has been the center of so many wonderful memories for all of us. I had never had a spend the night party before. That winter, I was allowed to have six friends over and we put blankets and quilts on the floor in front of this fireplace and slept there. I say slept, but you all know how much sleeping goes on at a spend the night party. We had so much fun and I was so pleased that I finally had a nice, new home to share with my friends. The den was very small and the kitchen cabinets still didn’t have doors, but I don’t remember that making any difference. Daddy even let us roast marshmallows in the fire which was high up on the list of things we couldn‘t normally do. It was right up there with not walking barefoot on the new hardwood floors which would discolor them.
When we had company, my brothers and I would argue about who would sleep on the couch in the den by the fire. Daddy taught us how to “bank” the fire so it would be easy to start back up in the morning. If we had a big, backlog burning well, it would last until the next day without any trouble.
Lots of times for Thanksgiving and Christmas, we would move the dining room table into the den so we could enjoy the fire with our extended family. This was after we had enlarged the den to include the back deck. Now we have no deck, but a wonderful, large den.
Daddy loved his fireplace, and still does. He sat there in his grandfather’s rocking chair and watched the fire and listened to it crackle. He has rocked all of this grandchildren in front of this fire and I hope to rock mine there someday. He and Mother are in a nursing home now, and they both really miss home and hearth.
What made me think of all of this was when I was in the basement the other day and noticed the little door at the base of the concrete block fireplace support. I hadn’t thought of it in years. Daddy had them build a trap door in the floor of the fireplace. After the ashes had cooled, we just opened the door with the poker and shoveled the ashes down the shoot.. It occurred to me that we have never cleaned it out. We’ve been burning wood for 34 ½ years and it still isn’t full. This amazes me. All the years of sweet memories, happy times, warmth during a power loss, Christmas weddings, rocking babies and slumber parties contained behind that little metal door. All the trips to the woodpile, that’s after cutting and chopping the wood, mind you. Bringing in the kindling, and tending the fire during a storm so it won’t go out - and still it’s not full.
I guess this is just one more thing my dad did right. We had all those wonderful fires and not once did we have to carry out ashes. They are still here in the house, right along with all the beautiful memories they helped to build.
March 7, 2003
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