†† With a pile of firewood stacked beside the house it was time to get the fireplace ready.
†† We use an insert, a cast iron stove-of-sorts that fits into the fireplace opening, about 25 years old but still capable of keeping a hot fire going all night and more. The first step was to empty out all the ashes from burning trash all summer, then to oil the hinges and hangers.
†† A trip to the hardware store brought a new gasket to seal around the door for airtight fires, with glue for installation, and itís about a 30 minute job to get it into place.
†† We tried to clean the intake air ducts but itís hard to tell how much good we did. The two little fans that circulate the air probably need replacing but will wait at least another year.
†† When the fireplace was our only source of heat we used lots of green wood, mixed with dry pieces, stuffed the insert tight at night and shut off the dampers to make a slow, hot fire. With a couple of small fans in the doorways we could heat the entire upstairs area.
†† All too well, at times.
†† The thermostat is the front door, thrown open when it gets too hot, closed the rest of the time.
†† Now that we have new airtight porch windows we can, in theory, heat the porch if we want to.
†† Our fireplace is not at all like the ones I remember from the early years in Elliott County. Sam and Grandma had a huge fireplace that opened into the living room and a bedroom, big enough for huge backlogs and cooking pots that swiveled, and mostly I remember that in really cold weather we would bake on one side and freeze on the other, which should have averaged out being comfortable except it didnít work that way.
†† Sam was a chewer, and could sit in his ladderback chair at night and spit across the space to the fire where there would be a hiss and crackle as the juice ignited. Sam was not a drinker, but stories were plentiful about chewers who also took a little moonshine, spit into the fire, and got a flash of flames all the way back to the source.
†† That may be where the nickname ďHotlipsĒ actually came from.
†† I never actually saw it happen, but I have no doubt it would be just like the stories.
†† Sitting around the fireplace in the dim light was great fun, at least until the backside froze, then it was time to jump up and get closer, backing into the flames.
†† Late night didnít matter just a whole lot, because the house didnít have running water to freeze in the pipes and the feather mattresses let a body sink down into warmth that even the most frigid night couldnít penetrate. A covering of four or five quilts did the rest.
†† Early in the morning the water bucket in the kitchen would be frozen, the windows coated with ice inside, and very breath a frosty explosion. Sam went first to the kitchen stove to get the fire going again, both for heat and for cooking, then heíd add wood to the big fireplace for a morning burst of warmth.
†† During the day the fireplace flame died down to ashes, and the way we stayed warm was by working.
†† Cutting wood, lots of days, and splitting more kindling.
†† Our fireplace insert is much more efficient and productive, but it requires electricity for proper function. During the aftermath of the ice storm several years ago we found out our incredible little heater was, without its fans, just like Samís old fireplace. Hot on the front side, cold on the backside.
†† We survived. Then and now. My enjoyment of the fireplace is much mental as physical, and I suspect thatís the case with most people. The fire is messy, sometimes smoky, and sometimes way too hot, but itís worth the small problems.
†† With a fireplace, you get heat for the body and the soul.
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Rural life is a wonder of† small and large events that would maybe seem strange to urban dwellers, and it is the unique country lifestyle, or the ďcountryĒ life, that occupies the pen of Garry Barker.† His humorous conflicts with mice, hounds, briars and vines, underbrush, snakes, and things that go bump in the night and day have been a staple of his words for years.
Head of the Holler VI