Back in my long-ago childhood in Ft. Worth, Texas, working fireplaces were as rare as blizzards and snow shovels. The key word here is working fireplaces.
Many homes had imitation units designed as northern-style decorations. Our home, however, actually had a real fireplace. Though used only once in all the years I lived there, it was the source of one of my most unforgettable childhood memories. I always think of it as Daddy’s Fireplace Fiasco.
One December evening, Dad, who was feeling nostalgic about his childhood up north, decided it was time for the family to gather around a cozy fire. Never mind that the temperature was in the 60’s outside.
He invited us kids — brother Alan, sister Lynn and me — to sit on the sofa and watch the action as he initiated our till-then unused fireplace.
A meticulous man, Dad took great care in arranging the materials in just the right order.
First, came the wood. Since firewood was unheard of in our Texas neighborhood, he made do with some scrap 2 x 4s. Next was the kindling. Dad decided a combination of wood chips and crumpled newspaper would do the job. Finally, the moment of truth arrived.
With a flourish, he lit the paper, which burst into flame immediately. Slowly the wood chips began to glow and catch fire, too. But long before the 2 x 4s showed any interest in joining the blaze, we realized something was terribly wrong.
Smoke was pouring out of the fireplace into the room, totally bypassing the chimney.
Our eyes began to burn. Coughing, we asked Daddy if this was the way it was supposed to be. At first, he tried to act as though he had things under control. But he soon had to admit this wasn’t what he and hoped for.
As we all watched the familiar furniture disappearing in an acrid haze, Dad mulled over his rusty fire building skills. Suddenly, with an “Aha” in his voice, he yelled, “I forgot the damper.”
With that, he dove into the opening of the fireplace. His form was quickly enveloped in the growing cloud of smoke that was thickening the air. For several minutes, he pulled and tugged at some unseen piece of the chimney’s anatomy. At last, there was a resounding thud. Slowly, the smoke began to exit through the chimney rather than billow into the room.
Sitting on the sidelines like a cheering section at a sporting event, we kids stopped giggling and coughing long enough to give our hero a round of applause.
Unfortunately, Dad’s victory was short-lived. The fire went out. Over and over he tried to restart his dream blaze. He rearranged the materials, added more newspapers replaced the wood chips and lit match after match. But all his work was in vain. He was never able to get a real fire going.
After the smoke finally cleared and the debris from the aborted fire was cleaned up, Dad announced that he was giving up fire building and getting on with his life.
Looking back on Daddy’s Fireplace Fiasco, I realize that though he never gave us the cozy blaze he dreamed of, that long ago episode of smoke and laughter left a far more memorable warmth.