Power of Family Fire?

2 01 2007

I’ve been bustling around today, fresh in my maternal, circadian resolve to wrap up the holiday hibernation and get back in the swing of our usual routines and schedules in time for college and dance classes, street clothes instead of robes and slippers, etc.

We finally had a cold front come through last night, after a muggy holiday with no excuse for a friendly wood fire.

So as I was getting to the end of my bustly day — groceries put away and errands complete, happily bringing in hours worth of wood and laying the fire I was so eager to light when work was done and I could relax — it struck me that compared to my grandmother’s mountain childhood, my fire was very different. Fire once was part of hard work for mom, not an end-of-day treat for an indulged mom to enjoy like a cat.

I am SO much like my southern grandmother yet our experience of and ideas about fire for the family at home, are practically opposite.

Her mom’s fire 100 years ago was constant all day, part of the housework for cooking, heating water for laundry and bathing, tending young children and doing other chores nearby. In my mom’s Florida house in the 1970s, lighting a fire was holiday indulgence and infrequent enough to be really special, only when we were all home long enough to bother, which was hardly ever between school and work for us all. My dad never much liked having a fire even to gather around and relax; when she thought I was old enough, Mom explained how poor his family had been hence how un-special the work of homefires was to him.

For all of us the woodfire itself is remarkably the same, unchanged in 100 years. The power of its story is not.

We never even lived in a house with a fireplace until I was in junior high, and most of my friends didn’t back then. Now we know older folks who are grandparents, many in very fancy golf course homes with 16-foot high foyers and crown moulding to beat the band, and screened swimming pools and lawn service. No fireplace, or a little pretend gas-flame atmospheric thing maybe, symbolic more than functional. No wood, no ash, no heat and most ostentatiously no work at ALL.

I’m sitting idly in front of a wonderful fire right now, doing as my grandmother never did (blogging!) so I’m not thinking incisively perhaps — but I sense power of story for what’s happened to our ideas of education in 100 years. Schoolwork seems to combine the flashy-fake symbolic show of cool and clean-control gas fires, with the bootstrap blessing of endured inevitability as virtue,  like woodfires in that old Blue Ridge Mountain cabin — an awful lot of work all day every day, only to get up and repeat it all the next day, and the next, world without end amen.

Like a cross between the worst of my grandmother’s family fire and mine, both inevitable and irrelevant? I think I’d rather combine the BEST from the two experiences instead . . . dozing off now . . .