|It was an old wood stove.
I mean, there must have been a time when it was shiny & new. Solid black, with oiled up hinges and a door that swung open never making a noise. Maybe it was pristine, not a single spot of ash or soot on it. Maybe it was the centerpiece of the entire room. Maybe it came with a red bow. But as for me, and the long hallway of my memory, it was always an old wood stove.
It stood alone in the corner, gray with weary. Four clawed legs digging in to the plywood floor. It was squat, with one lone chamber for firewood. And a smokestack running northward through the ceiling, heaven bound. The handle was rusty and burned into place. So I would wrap my little fingers, clothed in the protection of his giant work glove, around the spiraled wire metal. And pull.
Inside, an orchestra of embers burned in four part harmony. They were enchanting. Intoxicating. And terrifying all at once. As the wind whistled at the door, I reached for the old wood stack beside me and threw another log on the fire. And that's when the sparks flew.
The dry kindling would catch fire immediately, and send orange flames shooting up the chimney and streaking out across the ceiling above. They would skip across the sagging sheetrock and lick at the edges of the pink puffs of insulation hanging down. For seconds that felt like centuries, they danced at the edge of ruin. And then just like that, it was over. The fire would return to its place. The creaky metal door would be sealed shut. The gloves would come off....and life would go on again.
For every summer growing up that I can remember, I got paid ten cents a piece to help stack wood (even back then I was entrepreneurial). And every winter, I would help keep the fire burning. I suppose I thought I had it pretty rough back then, and maybe, just maybe...we did. But looking back now. I also know it taught me something. A lot of somethings. About hard work. Starting with what you've got, and building from there. And continuing to throw fuel on the fire...even when it's terrifying.
This weekend, in an example of life coming full circle, my dad came to visit and brought with him a load of firewood. And I realized how much life had changed. See, this would be wood for a fire not because we needed the heat to stay warm, but because it's pretty to look at. The fireplace was clean and decorated, without a spot of ash or ember to be seen. And the ceilings were all secure in their rightful places.
As we stacked the wood I told him, just so he'd know, that my day rate had gone up considerably. And he said that was alright, because so had his. So we decided to call it even. Except for this pair of antique hooks that he gave me, which he had used when he first went to work in the woods at twelve years old. Twelve years old when he started cutting trees, learning how to run a dozer, and working full time to help support his family. And it was right about then that I realized....maybe, just maybe, I didn't have it so rough after all.
Because there was someone there throwing fuel on the fire long before I did.