Fireplace-less? Call it a bucket list, or call it what you will. I had decided it was time to end my years of living without a fireplace. I fully understand that is not exactly a hardship, but as I head into the twilight of my life, I very much wanted to be able to pull up to my fireplace and be mesmerized by flames and the luminescent, flickering coals. If the rest of the house was falling down around me, well, so be it.
There’s a certain peacefulness to sitting before a fire, and you can never have too much peace of mind.
In the interest of full disclosure, let me say that I have had the good fortune of having fireplaces in my life.
One was just a brick facade that was not connected to a traditional chimney or flue, and hence was not worth much of anything in the way of providing a crackling fire, or a good place to toast marshmallows in the winter. It was a lovely, dark red brick arrangement, with a wood basket and even the tools — but it was just for “pretending,” I guess. Something to impress my guests, although they never seemed ‘wowed’ after I told them it was a faux fireplace.
But, say what you will, it did have a lovely double mantle, which I especially loved to decorate at Christmas — stockings and all. The addition of a cheerful focal point and a cozy ambiance were its only contributions. I lit candles, which I’d arranged on logs in the fireplace — and it was close, but no cigar.
I had a few others which are mostly part of my ancient history, then most recently I moved into my new/old house on Torrey Street. It had been my dream to spend my “final years” reading, sipping wine, dog curled in my lap — in front of a real fireplace. A real fire with real flames and real snapping and crackling, and maybe even a tiny whiff of smoke.
It just happened that way, but in what turned out to be an embarrassment of riches — I got two fireplaces, and so I must be twice as grateful as most folks would be (and I surely am).
One is a brick fireplace (which needs some work) which has both mantle and hearth, and the second is a stone fireplace located back in the den/sunroom/family room/rumpus room — call it what you may — that has a nice wide hearth on which a person might sit whilst starting the fire or toasting their marshmallows.
I love them both, and I feel so blessed to have this bucket wish granted.
At first, I wasn’t sure how to start the fireplace. There is a science to it, you know. You can’t just throw a bunch of flammable material in there and then add a match. Won’t work. Either the logs will not catch (too wet, or too large), or the papers and kindling will burn like an inferno, and it will all be over in a very short time. You might be able to toast one marshmallow, but that would be about it.
So, under the tutelage of my youngest son, Kyle, who has a great stone fireplace in Orlando, I have learned how to start a fire, and kind of keep it going. He knows I am not exactly the Daniel Boone type. I need direction.
First, we figured out how to open the flue and vents or whatever is in there. The flue is held open on a chain sort of operation, and requires a steady hand and a flashlight so you can see what’s happening in that dark space.
Then there’s some other thing on the other side, which is more of a lever, that has to be pulled forward (or maybe it is back). I wrote down the instructions, and do refer to them. Having the house fill with soot and smoke is not something I am looking forward to, but given my inborn clumsiness, that will likely happen at some point.
We bought some small pre-cut kindling sticks and starters and arranged them at the bottom of the grate. Next, we put a fake and highly combustible log on the bottom and built a sort of a teepee of smallish logs.
One swipe of the match, a magical glow emanated from the fireplace, and the zen began.
Kyle sat close to the fire in “his” chair and poked and prodded the flames with an old barbecue tong (no fireplace tools, yet). The flames were happily flickering on the ceiling, and across Kyle’s face.
The room was quiet except for the all-out sound of the hissing, snapping and crackling. Yeah. This was what I meant! I was curled up in a blanket as content as a person could be. My terrier, Ivy Claire, was at my feet and was weaseling in as close as she could possibly get. It was a special evening, and I must say a public thanks to all my angels and saints, and, of course, to Kyle!