My New Fireplace

Fireplaces have never impressed me much. I can’t even recall my first indoor encounter with burning logs. Until I was older, none of my relatives had working fireplaces.

My first childhood home didn’t have a fireplace. The second — the house my father died in — didn’t have a fireplace when we moved in. A few years later, Dad knocked out a wall in the dead of winter to add one to the basement he’d just finished.

The fireplace Dad built is constructed of street bricks, manufactured in the 19th century and salvaged by Dad over many years as roads in downtown Lexington KY were repaved. The massive bricks, about ten or twelve inches wide, five or six inches deep and as tall, weigh a ton — so much he had to wait for the mortar to dry before he could add another row. The cobble stone facade goes all the way to the ceiling, with an arch over the fire box and  insets on either side for objets d’art.

Unfortunately, because the chimney wasn’t quite tall enough to clear the roofline, wind blew down the chimney Dad built for his gorgeous, unique fireplace. Even the slightest breeze, and the house quickly filled with smoke. Did I mention Dad was a fire chief? He’d open doors and windows around the house to keep us from dying from smoke inhalation.

My first house in Athens had a fakeplace. Flip the switch and blue flames shot up around imitation logs. Flip another switch and a blower came on, pushing the hot air into the living room. I enjoyed the ambience for a few months and then rarely turned the thing on again.

The presence of a living room fireplace had no impact my decision to buy my new house, one way or the other. For more than a year, one of those fake logs you can buy at the grocery store sat on the grate. I got a hair during an early December cold snap and called a “firewood for sale” ad in the local paper. That very afternoon, a young man backed into my driveway and, with the help of his wife and their five-year-old boy, unloaded and stacked the wood along the side of my house.

I ran to Target, picked up fireplace tools and a basket for wood, and paid with my debit card — becoming part of one of the biggest data-hacking events in history. Since my debit card expired in December, I wasn’t worried. But I was surprised and annoyed to receive a new card, forcing me to spend hours trying to remember passwords so I could change the card number on automated payments. On the plus side, they didn’t change the PIN I’ve had for more than thirty years.

Anyway, I wanted wood in case I felt like lighting a fire or lost power in my all-electric house. I had them stack maybe a fourth of the load in my garage to keep it dry, and the rest along the side of my house. I really didn’t think I’d want to fool with a fire much and expected the wood to last all winter. Stacking most of it outside would keep me from having to tote it out of the garage when the weather warmed up.

I lit my first fire that night and, until the weather warmed up, had one all but three nights. I’m burning through wood like it was crack, and in the process, financing the college education of my firewood man’s preschooler. The second time, I had them stack the full load in the garage. I’ve called them five more times since then.

Having a fire every day means scooping ashes and toting firewood into the house. I have a thing for clean floors. Dusty furniture doesn’t bother me a bit, but debris or footprints on my hardwood floors send me scurrying for my vacuum cleaner and a mop. My enjoyment of the fire is worth running the sweeper and mopping every day. One of these days, I might even dust.