Fall brings images of earthy leaves, that crunch underfoot crisp apples picked off the tree and wood piles neat and tidy. This past fall, all those these were void for me, instead I was spending precious days with my husband in the hospital as bad news trickled in like the drips from a leaky faucet; drop by drop so as not to flood our hearts and minds for what was unthinkable. On October 30th, our children began adjusting to our new lives without their father and me without the physical presence of my husband of more than 36 years.
With brute force, I pulled the lever at the top of the box and opened the damper. I took a sheet of newspaper and crunched it into a ball as I had seen my husband do over and over, but didn't really pay it much attention. I've built fires in the pouring rain. 'A cinch. Then came a few dry twigs. When I placed the heavy logs onto of all this the structure collapsed. This is how Jerry did it. It's OK. My husband a bit unconventional (he did things his way) I knew that flame needs air, I wondered if this would work. Still I scratched the match to the box and then held it under the edge of the newspaper. It took. Stepping back, I sighed and watched the light spread. Once it caught, I closed the damper, latched the door and stepped away. Soon afterward I grabbed my red sweater from the hook and pulled it on. I think it was colder inside than outside.
Something had gone desperately wrong. Opening the wood stove, the barely charred wood was cold. With each passing day, it didn't get much better. There were many times I went to school (I am certain) with an air of smokey perfume wafting through the halls. There was plenty of smoke to start, but little heat. It had to get better. With frigid winter temperatures ahead, there was no choice, but to persist. Instinctually, I began noting elements of fire building that worked and those that did not feed the flame. I adjusted.
Here's what I learned:
- Don't use wet wood. If it sizzles inside the stove, you know you have made a bad move.
- Use plenty of kindling. Choose wisely.
- Keep the damper open for a bit of time. (I still get a little nervous with this one and remember the fire trucks showing up, but that is for another story.) Be patient.
- Always invoke your husband's help. Ask for help when you need it.
- Remember to keep calm, persist and believe it will happen. Miracles happen.
Last night, I stood by the wood stove my palms feeling the heat. The red glow of warmth flickered through the smokey window. I remembered the early days of widowhood just months ago, stepped back, sighed and smiled. Now, it's mid-March and I have survived most of my first Maine winter, alone. My husband is rooting for me. I just know it. Like the weak smokey flame that grew over time, I too have evolved.