IT meant a lot to me, having our own fireplace. I pictured it as the nucleus of our household. I pictured family and friends gathered around a well-behaved blaze for the purpose of exuding domestic tranquillity; I mean, this was our chance to be like those people in the Norman Rockwell paintings. On the occasion of our first fire, I purchased some beautiful hickory logs. Family and friends watched as I placed them on the fireplace grate and surrounded them with crumpled balls of newspaper for kindling. The wads of paper caught fire beautifully, and I recall that my audience oohed and ahed at the first brilliant, three-second blaze of want ads.
But I'm afraid this was the high point of the evening -- an evening consisting, rather tediously, of 20 or 30 of these three-second blazes being lighted above, around, and beneath the seemingly fireproof hickory logs. Throughout, I did not feel much like a Norman Rockwell character. An Al Capp, maybe. But not a Rockwell.
Being that I am not one who can easily march into a store and demand money back on the grounds that I was sold defective hickory, I made a further purchase. I bought lighter fluid.
With the aid of the fluid, our second fire started effortlessly. But, as traditionally happens to the rookie fireplace enthusiast, I was suddenly unsure as to whether the flue was open or shut. I contorted my torso in a way that allowed me to glance up the chimney without being touched by the low flame, but regardless of whether I pulled the damper arm in or out, I saw the same thing -- darkness.
When I paused momentarily to re-align my vertebrae, my wife stated authoritatively, ``When the arm is in, the flue is open.'' So I rested easily and, before the heightened flame, enjoyed a few long, relaxing moments. But then, ever so slowly, she added, ``Or maybe the flue is open when the arm is out,'' thus relinquishing her title as Crisis Manager and Esteemed Chimney Expert, as a billow of black smoke obscured her features. Those practiced in seeing the positive aspects in every disaster might have called our second fire ``a good test of the effectiveness of your smoke alarm.''
Considering these first experiences, I guess it's understandable that attendance at my next fire was sparse. Everyone seemed to have been called away by vitally important undertakings (such as having to darn a vitally important sock). As it happened, the third fire was such a picture-perfect conflagration that I wanted signed statements to that effect from all witnesses, but there was only me and my dog; and the dog either lacks writing ability or is simply too smart to sign anything.
I considered taking a snapshot of the blaze and offering it to friends as proof that I was capable of conducting such proceedings, but I knew I'd hear something like ``You could've gotten this flame effect with red cellophane and a light bulb.''
I had no major problems with my fourth fire, either, and it afforded me the opportunity to experiment a little with log positioning. I had heard rumors to the effect that jostling a log might allow for more oxygen and thus might heighten a dying flame. We had purchased an implement, a poker, which was supposed to be the jostling agent, although we bought it solely because we admired its ornate, golden handle and thought it would look nice resting by the fireplace screen. I don't think we gave any thought to ever using the thing. The poker is essentially a pointed stick with a prong that looks like it might be useful for opening bottles if it were about one-tenth the size.
Taking my cue from the implement's name, I poked at one of the logs, and it immediately flopped off the grate. I'm sure the log was getting loads of oxygen in this position, but I wanted it on the grate. What I needed to get it back in position was something along the lines of an enormous pair of tweezers. There was certainly nothing effective I could do with this oversize bottle opener except kill some time admiring its ornate, golden handle.
At the time of this writing, I am a veteran of at least two dozen fireplace fires. Confidence in my ability to manage the proceedings has grown. But my original idyllic, home-and-hearth impressions have changed a bit. I feel that a fire is no less an elemental force to be reckoned with now than it was in cave-man days. So, you might say, I see the current living room scene as a cross between a Norman Rockwell print and a cave painting -- although the balance might shift toward Rockwell once I clean the ashes out of this cave.