The temperature has dropped tonight, and it feels like fire season.
My mom, bless her heart, didn't have a fireplace. But she always understood that a fireplace was something warm and homey, so she did her best...with a cardboard fireplace. I guess they were popular in the 1960s, cardboard cut-outs that looked (sort of) like the real thing. The one we had was a corner model, white cardboard brick with a white cardboard chimney. It sat at the base of the stairs, so on Christmas morning the little rotating orange light that was supposed to look like a sparking fire invited us downstairs. I remember my dad waving hands and warning mom that putting real candles on the cardboard mantle was dangerous, but she didn't care. She wanted my sister and me to get it, how wonderful it might be to have a fire, or a pretend one, glowing on Christmas morning. I don't recall that she ever lit the cardboard fireplace at any other time.
When I bought my house it seemed necessary to install a fireplace...actually, two. I didn't grow up with a such luxuries. Yet when I was remodeling, it seemed important to include bluestone and chimneys, things my mom never had but understood.
Tonight a friend from Arkansas arrived. We sat by the real fire, blazing there at the end of the room, using real wood recently delivered. I couldn't help but think of my mom and her cardboard re-enactment. Thanks, mom. Even though you didn't give me an actual fireplace back then, I got the idea. Near October is time for sweatshirts and banana bread, turning up the thermostat, cuddling under quilts. It's time for stray sparks, and a cozy spot by the hearth. Your cardboard fireplace seemed tacky then, but now, so many years later, I'm glad I walked down those stairs and saw its silly fake light. Even now I think I might be able to rub my hands together over the orange light bulb and feel the love and warmth of family, which is really what you were trying to tell me all along.