We already had a fireplace, of course. A Craftsman like this almost always has one. What was in it, though, was a high-end gas insert, hugely efficient. It was something
We already had a fireplace, of course. A Craftsman like this almost always has one. What was in it, though, was a high-end gas insert, hugely efficient. It was something that the boys could turn on themselves. But that phrase — do you want to turn on the fire? — never did sit well with me. I grew up on wood fires. My parents bought my childhood house largely for its enormous fireplace. I spent 14 years in this house hating our perfectly good, perfectly boring gas fire. Something finally flipped in me last fall. I started calling around.
I got three different answers about the state of the chimney from three different sweeps. I got four estimates from builders, all stratospheric and impossible. I ran into my neighbor, a guy who does historical renovations, and told him about our fireplace woes. Don’t be sad, he said. I’ve got a guy.
The Guy turned up on a Saturday with a couple of other guys and Sawzalled a hole the size of a card table into my chimney. I did not understand that he was going to do this. He needed to add a damper; I didn’t know we didn’t have one. There was dust everywhere. We had not tarped or sheeted anything. I began a 48-hour anxiety attack. What if we broke the house? My younger son, The Wee, who had almost literally never worn a pair of jeans, disappeared upstairs. He returned wearing jeans, holding a tape measure and a pencil. He was dressed up just like The Guy. The Wee was in awe. He stayed in the room, watching, all weekend. In many ways, my 9-year-old general-contracted our fireplace.
It took the crew a little more than two days. Except for the raised hearth — the kids will want to sit on it, The Guy said, and he was right — it looks like it’s original. It can be slightly fussy, but it draws smoke, and it pumps out heat. The kids love it. The dog loves it, now knows the word “fire.” My wife, who was a skeptic, and who does not — did not — love the smell of woodsmoke, loves it. It led to us actually living in the living room. I can’t believe we waited so long.
You have to — you get to — mess with a wood fire. There are tools. You fiddle with it. Argue with your people about whether it needs another log, where said log ought to go, when to add it. You have to figure out what to do when the fire slows. Our firebox is smallish, and our firewood needs splitting. There’s ritual now: split, stack, light, fuss, repeat.
The boys learned how to lay a fire, how to light it with paper bags and cereal boxes. They know to check on it, to call through the house when it’s low or smoky. We read there, listen to music there, sit with the fire before bed. We hung stockings with care and will again. I used to wait every fall for that first cool day, the first evening you want for sleeves out on the porch. I’ll wait for that day this year, too. But really, I’ll be looking for the first cold night, the first night when the boys will ask if it’s cold enough for a fire. Oh, absolutely, I’ll say. Let’s go chop some wood.