Part of the Blogging A to Z Challenge. I’m blogging every day in April, except Sundays, thematically from A to Z. Find out more here.
I’ve always loved a fireplace. From its raging heat blazing with stacked logs to its dying embers in the dark, signaling the night is over. It’s alive. It grows. Then it dies. No two are ever the same.
Whether its purpose is to take the chill off a winter night or to fill my head with memories of long ago Christmases that wrap me in nostalgia.
To snuggle and doze and let my mind wander. To enjoy a Fall night at an outdoor pit, the chill at your back and the warmth at your face as the stars twinkle in the quiet above. It has so many meanings.
I grew up in the country in an old Federal-style farmhouse with a fireplace at each end. The one had no flue as it was an old cooking fireplace with hooks to hang pots. We’d stuff insulation up it and pull it out once a year at holiday time to light it.
As a child I’d head to the Back 40 with my dad and help him split logs. After he’d chucked them down in the earth-floor cellar, I’d stack them along the walls. We then had wood to warm our toes in the winter and keep the woodstove going in the cellar when the cold snap came. If not the pipes would freeze and burst.
We have three fireplaces in our old farmhouse now. One in the kitchen has Mercer tile around it in what’s called a “surround”, or a story around the fireplace. Henry Mercer was an American archeologist, artifact collector, tile-maker and designer of three distinctive poured concrete structures: Fonthill, his home, the Moravian Pottery, and Tile Works. All are in my hometown of Doylestown, PA. The story around our fireplace tells us of the New World, a theme Mercer was fond of.
In Ancient Greek mythology, the titan Prometheus stole fire from the gods and delivered it to humanity. While he served his time for the crime (chained to a rock, having his liver eaten daily by a really big bird) he left the rest up to us. And since then fire has been the key to our survival as a species.
Fireplaces have been around since almost the beginning of human kind. From the life-giving fires of our stone-age ancestors, to its place as decorative comfort in our 21st century homes. Ancient fire pits were positioned in the middle of the room. A hole in the ceiling would provide a draft through which the smoke could escape. This served for nearly 2,000 years until the chimney was invented.
And it wasn’t until the 1950s that ranch houses and central heating made the fireplace a decoration rather than a heating and cooking device.
Did you know that Benjamin Franklin also played an important role in the invention of fireplaces? He created the first freestanding firebox, which became known as the Franklin stove. It heated the entire room thoroughly and evenly.
My mother told me that when she was a child in the 1930s they had one fireplace to heat the house. She would stand and singe her front while her backside froze, then she’d run upstairs in the chill to dive under covers with a hot water bottle under handmade quilts. I was lucky to visit this old homestead in the woods after my mom passed away. It’s falling down and alone, but there is the fireplace she stood by to warm herself on winter nights.
Fireplaces have held many memories of family, good times, and contentment. Have you got any tales of your favorite fireside memories?