December 2011: For The Record


For The Record

Turns out that fireplaces tend to warm much more than just our homes; they warm our hearts.

As I was growing up, my grandparents had an oversized masonry fireplace. It was constructed from traditional red bricks with white mortar. The hearth was nice and deep – perfect for sitting to warm up after a day of riding go-karts or building forts in the woods.

The fireplace boasted a heavy, handsome wood mantel that held various items – an oil lamp and my grandfather’s trinkets. A couple of nails protruded permanently from the mantel to suspend a few Christmas stockings each year.

This old fireplace actually was situated in the kitchen of the home. The kitchen and den were together as one large room. These were the days when every home was built with a den and kitchen where people could live day to day, and a formal living room that was only used once a year, during the holidays.

In winter, my grandparents would rearrange the furniture so that the loveseat was right in front of the fireplace. This was my favorite place to be. It was the center of the house and, therefore, the hustle and bustle of everyone’s daily routine.

The fireplace had a wrought iron arm that would swing in and out of the firebox, and it was designed to hold a big, cast iron pot with a lid for cooking stews and soups. I don’t recall ever seeing anyone cook anything in it. We did roast marsh mellows with straightened coat hangers a couple of times – that, I remember.

I can close my eyes and feel the roaring fire. Huge, orange and yellow flames shooting mightily. The heat that fireplace radiated was remarkable. The sounds of the crackling wood and the unmistakable smell only a wood-burning fireplace can produce are forever in my memories. We have a fireplace in our home today, and we love it. But no fireplace is the same as that of my grandparents.

The wood for the fireplace was perfect, because it was cut yearly by my grandfather. I know, because I used to attend this event. The cold and, usually, damp weather was unforgettable. My grandfather would cut away with the chain saw for fat lighter to start the fires, and logs to keep it going for hours. The process of getting the wood – although boring for a kid – was a ritual that made me appreciate our majestic fires all the more.

As we address fireplaces in this issue of Masonry, I encourage you to close your eyes and think about your first encounter with a masonry fireplace – the sights, the sounds and the smells. Your heart will be warmed on even the coldest winter day.

Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays to all of you and your families.

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