I’ve had quite a few fire-places in my life. The first was the kerosene kitchen stove in the little Minneapolis house on Russell Ave. N. It had white porcelain handles to turn on the gas. My first four years were lived in that house and I learned well the meaning of the word “No!” which was spoken whenever I’d try to play with those pretty handles. We had a coal burning furnace there too, but it was in the basement and I don’t remember getting acquainted with it.
The next fire place I knew was in my country grandma’s kitchen. You’ve seen, no doubt, replicas of those black wrought iron creatures in second hand and collectible stores. But you haven’t really known that kind of fireplace unless you’ve seen the real thing in use. I didn’t need the cautionary word “No” with this stove. It was hot and scary to look into, but when I was held in someone’s arms I could feel it enough to understand I must keep my distance. Still, it was exciting to look at the glowing contents when Grandma lifted the lid with her right hand and held me with her left arm.
In the early 1930‘s before rural electricity came to her home Grandma’s house was lit by candles in any room that was occupied. Candles were no-touch-by-children objects too but Grandma would carry a candle up the stairs with me at bedtime. When more light was needed a kerosene lamp on the kitchen table did the trick. I didn’t like the glare or smell of that thing. Besides it hissed!
I heard about real fireplaces at Christmastime when I saw pictures of them on Christmas cards and in children's books and wished that we had one in our own country home. I worried that Santa wouldn’t come to our house since we had no fireplace but Mother assured me that Santa would be glad to find a house where he wouldn’t be obliged to jump into a sooty chimney. We’d leave the door unlocked that one night of the year and put a plate of cookies and a glass of milk on the table for him.
What we did have in the way of a fireplace in our own country house was a genuine pot-bellied stove with chrome bumpers and foot rests. I was not allowed to touch it but I could watch Daddy feed it and enjoy the comforts it offered, especially when I bathed in the laundry tub set next to it on winter Saturday nights.
When I was seventeen I went to live with my other grandmother in a little adobe tile-roofed California house in Riverside, California. It had a real fireplace. We had to buy firewood at the corner grocery and carry it home so we used the fireplace sparingly, but it was fun to tend the fire, using a long poker to move the logs, then sit and watch the flames leap and sputter until they turned into golden shimmering cities of coals.
After I was married we moved frequently and had other fireplaces in houses too numerous to mention but the fireplace experience never grew old. It was always special. On camping trips we had many a fire outside our tent at night to cook on and roast marshmallows. When we lived on the ranch in southern Oregon our fireplace was a Franklin stove, a free-standing fireplace invented by Benjamin himself.
In my present home I do not have a fireplace but early mornings before dawn I often light up the collection of candles spread over my secretary-desk. Candlelight, like firelight, moves unpredictably like something alive and autonomous. I often have a hard time concentrating on what I’m reading because of the fascination of dreamy dancing little flames. I call that corner “my fireplace.” (Don’t worry, dear reader, I never leave it unattended.) This morning I nearly drifted back to sleep sitting across from my "fireplace." Then Katie woke up and we went shopping.
I’m done transferring this blog to my computer now and I feel a nap coming on. I’ll wait until morning to re-light my fire-place. I’ll tell it about the blog I wrote and it will give me, no doubt, a happy little light show in honor of its going public.