Reflecting on the Sentimental Sweetness of a Wood-Burning Fireplace

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wood-burning fire

Photo credit: Unsplash/Stéphane Juban

There are some things that improve with time. Technology. Medical breakthroughs. Friendship. Then there are instances the words “new and improved” need not apply. Prime example: the wood-burning fireplace. No amount of convenience, labor saved or cost-effectiveness from a gas-burning log set will ever beat the pure joy of a roaring fire expertly built from real wood, paper and a match.

Growing up, the aroma of faint smoke wafting through our household on a cold winter morning could pull me from even the deepest slumber as I snuggled under the covers in dreamland. One hint that Daddy had lit a morning fire pulled me toward the hearth like the proverbial moth to a flame. No matter what Jack Frost had gotten up to overnight, backing up to a toasty fire took away the chill.

The brick hearth and fireplace where we tended to gather morning and night was in our den. It was unusual, but my younger sister and I shared the room most would call the master bedroom. My parents were so enamored by a roaring fire, they chose to sleep each night on a fold-out sofa strategically located in front of the fireplace. If one of us wandered into the kitchen for a glass of water at night, you could hear the snap and crackle of burning logs blended with the bray-like cadence of Daddy’s snores.

On the long hearth, Mama positioned treasures, some useful, some just for show. Among these: a cast-iron bed warmer, bellows made of pine, tinderboxes holding both long and short matches, a fireplace poker set, and a brass-riveted wooden butter churn. Pottery jars and pots resided next to a brass bucket, stuffed with pillows to soften direct seating on the brick hearth. A brass and wire screen kept errant embers from straying. Fire logs were kept in a 4-foot square brown wooden box just outside the den door under the roof eaves.

See more: Put a Lid on It: Snow Day Memories Recall Racing on Makeshift Sleds

Year round, the mantel was topped with family photos, candlesticks and a beautiful antique clock that Daddy wound each Sunday. The clock figured into a favorite family story. One night, after counting the chimes, Daddy woke Mama to announce with a grin: “Guess what? It’s 13 o’clock!” (I’m not sure Mama ever appreciated that story.) At Christmastime, these familiar mantel knickknacks made room for swags of green pine and cedar, Christmas ornaments and red ribbon, and a herd of small holiday deer. The aroma of the outdoor’s greenery, combined with the faint smoke from the crackling fire, added to the magic of the season, although we worried about how fireproof Santa would prove to be during his chimney descent. Occasionally, Mama would throw stuff on the fire that made the flames turn colors. I’m not sure if that color concoction is still sold, but we loved the special effects. We would watch, mesmerized, as the flames danced in sparkling living color, like fireworks from a Roman candle.

On one occasion as a child, I got fairly sick, unable to keep anything down for days on end. Mama let me convalesce on the sofa in front of the fire as she went about her day. I remember Dr. Kermit Laird from the next town over making a house call to check on me. “I think she is getting dehydrated,” he told my worried mother. I heard him tell her if the nausea didn’t stop, I’d have to be hospitalized.

When he left, I begged not to go. “If I don’t get sick again, I don’t have to go, right?” I pleaded with Mama. She nodded, but I could see the doubt on her face. For days, I’d had no control over my body, but I was determined. For the next few hours, I lay still as stone, staring into the leaping flames dancing before me, letting its beauty distract me when a wave of nausea hit. Before long, the warmth of the fire made my eyes close and I drifted off to sleep. When I awoke, the fever, nausea and threat of the hospital had disappeared, gone in a puff of smoke.

About the Author: Nancy Dorman-Hickson grew up in the South, where she played on her family’s land with her siblings, fished in her granddaddy’s pond and learned to drive a stick shift on dirt roads and bumpy pastures. She worked for Progressive Farmer and Southern Living magazines before becoming a freelance writer. Find out more at nancydormanhickson.com.

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