Altar Call – Opelika-Auburn News

Walter Albritton

March 6, 2005


Sharing a fire with a good friend on a cold winter day


          My wife and I enjoy her fireplace. We have two in our home. Mine has gas logs. She lets me fire them up sometimes. Most of the time we just build a nice log fire in her fireplace.

          When we remodeled our cabin, now our retirement home, I insisted that we put gas logs in the original fireplace. I insisted but she prevailed. “Absolutely not,” she declared; “Gas logs are nice, but I prefer building my own fire in an open fireplace.”

          As I always do, I yielded to her wish, provided she would bring the firewood into the house. I had to cut and bring in wood when I was a boy. Now I am too old to bring in firewood. “If you want a fireplace, you will have to bring in the wood,” I said. Without flinching, she readily agreed. She would bring in the wood.

          (I should have cut a deal also about the kindling but I forgot. Now it is my job to cut kindling and haul it in so she can get a fire started. I could buy some, but I am too stingy to waste money on a bundle of kindling no bigger than a handful of peppermint candy.)

          When we added a great room, the focal point had to be a mantle, a hearth, and yes, gas logs. They should last 50 years since we use them so seldom. The gas logs are little more than our backup heating source. If we run out of wood, and the heat pump fails, we can turn on the gas logs to stay warm.

          My wife has kept her word. She brings in the wood and never complains about it. And being the sweet soul that I am, I even help her now and then. I hold the door open for her when she brings in an armful. After all, I remind myself, we are “one flesh.”

          The little woman can build a mean fire. Then we relax and watch all that heat going up the chimney. I like it so much I will even throw on a fresh log when needed. A small log, that is. I leave the big ones for her. That keeps her strong and healthy. Exercise is good for the body and the soul.

          Watching a good fire on a cold day is mesmerizing, like a rubdown for the mind. We solve a few of the world’s problems, relax, and sometimes drop off to sleep. I would not want her to know how much I enjoy her fires. She might want me to start bringing in the logs. For the time being, kindling is enough for me. I do not want to get down in the back. My back got out of sorts thirty years ago, and I do not want to risk re-injuring it.

          Last Thursday we shared our fire with a good friend, Grady Rowell. He drives down from the lake for a visit occasionally. I pretend there is something wrong with my computer so he will have an excuse to come see us. He gives my computer an adjustment; then we sit and talk a spell.

          We go back a long way. We were in high school with Grady. After we grew up and went off to college, we went our separate ways. After retirement, we came home to Elmore County, God’s country. We renewed our friendship and it is stronger now than ever.

          Around the fireplace we talk about life. That means we talk about suffering, dying, love, forgiveness, and lesser subjects. As we talk, I am participating in the conversation but also pondering it, musing over it almost as though I am observing the scene. In a strange way, it seems like an “out of body” experience.

          We bounce from serious themes to frivolous ones. One minute we are talking about love being the key to authentic living; the next about how sick we were last week with a stomach virus.

          Then, for no rhyme or reason, the conversation shifts to a time when my wife’s mother was cleaning her oven. “My sister walked into the kitchen just in time to see Mother passing out,” my wife said. Frantic for the moment, she would soon be laughing about why her mother had fainted.

          She had mixed Clorox and Pine Oil together and was using it to remove grease from the oven. On her knees, she stuck her head into the oven while scrubbing. Quickly overcome by the fumes, she passed out and fell to the floor. She recovered and lived to the ripe old age of 99.

          What relevance did that story have to our fireside chat? I do not have the slightest idea. That is not important. What matters, when friends are enjoying a fire together, is that life is being shared, and enriched by the sharing.

          Grady is a good fireside companion. He likes to talk. He likes to listen, and even more important, he likes to laugh. He will even bring in firewood. We keep it by the front door so our friends can share the fun of bringing in another log.

          Sharing a fire with a good friend on a winter day makes one glad to be alive. Saves gas too, and that’s good. + + + +