By Jim Dees
Perhaps instead of wreaths, candles and Scotch Pine trees, the visual of the season should be finish line tape, such as one crosses when completing a marathon. Indeed, modern life of 24-hour news, extreme weather, politics and even sports, can batter one’s psyche like running 24 miles uphill. Like drowning in pumpkin spice.
What’s the solution? Well, as any doctor might advise: proper rest, exercise, and diet. Your pastor would counsel getting closer to your Creator. My neighbor Burke Murkee would grunt: “Throw another log on the fire and pass the eggnog.”
Ah yes, fire. Humankind has sought solace in flames since caveman scratched that first note on the wall: “I’m freezing my bag a— off.” This led to hunting and gathering which is now known as, “Black Friday shopping.”
Hard to imagine old cavers in loincloths stampeding over a LED TV but that’s evolution.
Fire and the holidays fit like poker-in-hand. My ancestors worked at Parchman penitentiary in the early 20th Century and lived on site in employee housing. At Christmastime my Aunt Sister regaled us kids with tales of prisoners known as trusties who were, well, entrusted, with slipping into her and her siblings’ bedrooms in the pre-dawn hours to light the fire in their fireplace.
The mental image of this conjures a cozy fairy tale – with flames.
A century later, as a child, I remember glancing over at our fireplace one spring day and seeing two children-size cowboy belts atop the logs. They were leftovers from Christmas for my brother and I that Santa had (exhaustedly) forgotten to bestow.
The belts would have been discovered soon enough. My father, probably like yours, was partial to having a fire in season. This meant it was always a good time to go outside and pick up sticks if he happened to find you lollygagging around.
Pine cones were also a favorite and it’s true, when they ignite, they make a fine flame.
Our father had a precise itinerary when he laid a fire: small kindling of wood shanks from leftover lumber mixed with tightly rolled newspapers. The logs would be stacked on the irons with edges opposite each other, spaced for air flow. Then, like nuts on a sundae, he would sprinkle the pine cones in around the paper and shanks.
He wasn’t above adding the occasional empty skim milk carton.
Here in Oxford, on Dec. 8, 1980, a freaky group of us were watching Monday Night Football with the sound off. We kept the fireplace roaring and the small TV was an afterthought. Two or three paces away from the fire was chilly due the porous crumbling of our hippie house.
We were quoting from a Playboy interview with John Lennon, even in our lamest Beatle accents,when suddenly Lennon’s face appeared on the screen. We quickly turned up the sound in time to hear the nasal-intonations of Howard Cosell announcing the unfathomable news, “Shot and killed in New York…”
The fire burned even colder that night.
A decade later, when I was fortunate to spend some years in the cool enclave of Taylor, I fell in with fellow pyro-lovers, that is to say, most everybody in town. Any occasion was reason for a small bonfire.
One memorable week, a party was forged around the week-long burning of a tree stump, right downtown.
A nice fire outside may be the best use of the element. Sitting under the stars on a chilly evening, lost in the flames, sipping your preferred anti-freeze, could possibly induce world peace.
Especially if the fire is all-embracing and makes you turn yourself like a rotisserie chicken. This is why a chimney is obviously not a place for a Big Elf like Santa Claus. Who would want to ruin a nice red felt suit shimmying around in soot made from the occasional skim milk carton? Not to mention that white beard.
The last time I visited my now-gone parents, my mother was by the fireplace complaining about the small birds nesting in the chimney. I could also hear the birds but my father was deaf enough to be blissfully unaware.
My mother would eventually hire a chimney sweep who relocated the birds and showed them to my amazed father. They had avoided a holocaust. He would soon lay his last fire. When it came time to open the flue and ignite his handiwork, the roaring rush of pecan and oak would fill the air with heat, comfort and joy.
Remember your loved ones this season and warm them with a fire.
And I’ll think, once again, ole Burke Murkee is right.