Friday, November 17, 2006

Fireplace Memories [CCR]

Cold weather has definitely struck Ohio. The folks in Alabama would swear it was the middle of February here, but alas it is still only November. The fireplaces have started their curl of smoke up to the sky from many Ohio homes. I just haven’t figured how a fireplace could heat a home in the worst weather up here.

As a boy growing up in Alabama I became very accustomed to fireplaces and the weekly experience of cutting wood. It was always a challenge to get close enough to the fire at Granddaddy Daily’s house to feel the full warmth without getting popped by a hot ember. I guess I did rather good because I don’t remember getting burned by an ember, but I do remember the watching Granddaddy stoke the fire and the flames rise anew.

Dad grew up in the home of a woodsman and mastered all the talents of woodworking that I wish I had gained. As a result Dad personally molded the house along the years, transitioning it into the home we see today. Along the way Dad hired Mr. Eckles from town to build us a fireplace. Mr. Eckles and his crew were fine masonry men and it wasn’t long before we had our own fireplace. Dad made the various metal components for the fireplace including a rack to hold a pot.

While Dad usually came to my rescue on the larger logs, it become my job to keep the wood box full and the ashes emptied. Dad and Mr. Eckles had built an ash dump mechanism which save much time. But the smell of a fresh fire that had been the attraction at my Granddaddy’s house was now ours. Dad and I spent many Saturdays cutting wood. He always kept the wood ready for the next season so we had a stack of dry wood and a stack of green wood. A true combination made a better fire.

Mom began to take advantage of the fireplace too. She would fix a big cast iron pot of beans that had a home cooked taste you pay extra for today. She would bake a pan of cornbread that, crumbled into those hot beans, made the whole effort of keeping the fire going worth the time. Southern cornbread can’t be matched. Folks up here seem to think sugar goes in cornbread. They just don’t understand.

As the years went by the configuration of our fireplace changed. Dad used a soft fire brick to close the front of the fireplace and add a wood heater which provided more efficient heat. Later, at Mom’s bequest, Dad built a flue on the wall next to the fireplace for the heater and reopened the fireplace for the smells and beauty of a roaring fire on a cold day. But the chores of the wood box remained for my years at home.

Today the wood box is missing. So is the wood heater, which took up a new home in Dad’s workshop. Dad has grown older and my years at home are past, so we miss the times together cutting wood. The fireplace and wood heater have been replaced with the more efficient gas logs. I must admit they provide the heat needed to keep the house cheerfully warm. But when I drive along the country roads of Ohio and pass a home with that curl of smoke, the smell takes me back to the days of cornbread and beans. And you know, I actually miss keeping that old wood box.

As I arrive home from the office and open the door I find a house full of electronic gadgetry blaring and food cooking on the electric stove. Yes, it is nice to have all the conveniences of today and to be comfortable. But there is something missing in my mind, something about hickory smoked beans, fresh baked cornbread, and Southern sweet tea. Even in my house in Ohio I look over to the corner of the room and miss that box full of wood and the crackle of embers as the glow fills the room.