Memories of fire keep me warm
It’s Halloween and I have been giving candy to kids for the last two hours. Brian will be home soon. He called earlier and asked me to make a fire for us. I just threw a Pine Mountain Ultra Flame Fire Log onto the hearth.
The crackle and glow of fire has always comforted me. It reminds me of home.
My mother visited me in Manhattan last week. It was cold one evening, and so I made a fire. This got her thinking about the first fire she and my father had when they moved to Eden in ’79.
There was a cast iron stove in the living room. An old brick chimney went up through the center of the house. My parent’s bedroom was on the other side.
They were watching television when my mother heard a crackling noise in the bedroom. When she opened the door, she saw that the entire wall behind the chimney was rippling with flames.
They spent all night putting it out.
Apparently there had been a stove in the front room. When the previous owners took it out, they put a tin pie plate over the opening that connected to the hearth, and wall papered over it.
My father pulled the whole chimney out and replaced it with a triple steel wood-burning stove, the stove I grew up with.
I think about my father a lot during this time of year. That sweet, mossy scent of fall makes the electric whine of his chainsaw ring in my ears. I can nearly hear it echoing through the 10 acres of forest that surrounds my childhood home; he liked to cut his own firewood.
“Sarah!” he’d call. I was usually outside raking leaves. “She’s ready!”
I’d drop my rake and run into the woods, the sound of the Beatles my only navigation to his whereabouts. He would be standing at the base of a colossal trunk, a white chunk missing from the side he wanted it to fall. I stood far away and watched him finish the job.
It was exhilarating to watch the really big trees fall through surrounding branches; I liked to feel the ground shake beneath my feet.
When he finished cutting the trunk into cordwood, we threw the pieces into the back of his pickup, drove it to the back porch, and stacked it. We did this every autumn. It was a repetition that never grew old.
He taught me at an early age to make a proper fire: crinkled newspaper for the bottom layer, crisscrossed kindling on top of that, and then set one or two decent-sized logs on the whole thing.
I don’t need to do that in the city. I simply put a “green log” into the fireplace, light the edges of the plasticy biodegradable material that covers it, and ta da! Instant, “nostalgic,” fire that lasts three hours! Easy and clean.
But I miss the heady smoke that cured my hair and clothes during the wintertime.
Every night after supper, the three of us would congregate in the living room and watch the news or a movie. Our cats and dog would sprawl together in front of the stove next to any wet clothing we were hanging to dry.
During fall of 2006, my father cut what ended up being five years worth of firewood. At the time we knew he was sick, but we didn’t know he would die that January. But just in case he didn’t get better, he wanted to make sure my mother and I were warm in his absence.
Brian will be home very soon now. Fire is dancing on the log, like he asked. He didn’t have a hearth growing up. This is his first, and he is just as mesmerized by the smells and sights as me.
He often asks me about the future; he likes to hear me talk about where I envision us in 10 years. The answer is always the same: somewhere with land and woods, preferably a little lake.
A place with a porch and summertime crickets. And maybe even a chainsaw of my own so he can watch the really big trees fall.
Sarah T. Schwab is a Fredonia State graduate. Send comments to