We bought our first house 20 years ago, still live there, and will die there if we have any say in the matter, which I suppose makes it our last house, too. It’s not a perfect house — the kitchen, where we spend all our time, is on the north side of the house and doesn’t get much sunlight — but the house is otherwise suitable and fits us well. The best feature is the kitchen woodstove, which we fire up in fall and keep burning through late winter or until we run out of firewood, whichever comes first. Like most purchases I’ve made, it was impulsive but has given us more pleasure per dollar than anything we’ve owned.
I haven’t yet discerned whether we own the stove or it owns us. A man who heats his home with a woodstove has unwittingly signed up for a full-time job: cutting, hauling, and stacking firewood seven months of the year to stay warm the other five. Except for this man, since I hire a woman named Kelly to bring me firewood each fall. Kelly drives a school bus in our town and cuts firewood the rest of the year. It would be selfish of me to cut my own firewood when Kelly so obviously wants the work.
This still leaves plenty of work for me, carrying the firewood in from the fence row to stack on the back porch, waking early each morning to load the stove, tending it through the day, staring at the fire each evening contemplating matters great and small. Devoting one’s life to reflection can be tiring, and many evenings I fall asleep while staring at the fire, exhausted by my labors.
One of my favorite things to think about while seated by the fire is how much better the world would be if everyone were seated by a fire. While gazing at a fire, I’ve never thought ill of someone else or wished them harm in any way. Indeed, just the opposite has happened. A man I didn’t care for once appeared at our door on a winter’s evening. I invited him in and ushered him to a chair in front of the fire. We sat for a pleasant hour, philosophizing, and by the time he left, we were thick as thieves. The United Nations should have a woodstove instead of a dais.
Our stove was made in Norway by a company named Jøtul, which has been making stoves since 1853. If our woodstove had been made in China, I probably wouldn’t have bought it, but I liked the idea of it being built by Norwegians. I’m sure Chinese workers do just as good a job as Norwegian workers, so I don’t know why I feel the way I do. I don’t like what it says about me that I automatically assume Chinese workers are less devoted to quality. The Forbidden City Imperial Palace in Beijing was built in the early 1400s and is still standing. I’m fairly certain it wasn’t built by Norwegians. If it had been built in America, we’d have torn it down and put up a Walmart. This is the kind of thing I think about while seated by the fire.
I should probably mention that we have a second home, my wife’s ancestral farmhouse in southern Indiana. We put a Jøtul woodstove in it last spring, so now I can think down there, which has thrown my whole life out of whack since I go there for the express purpose of not thinking. Lately, I’ve been thinking that owning two houses with woodstoves is wearing me out, and I should sell one and live in the other. Except now I am a prisoner, bound by cords of memory to the first house where our children were reared, tied by marriage to the second, where my wife was raised. And so, come winter, I own and am owned, captor and captive alike, lighting one fire while dousing another.
Philip Gulley is a Quaker pastor and the author of 22 books, including the Harmony and Hope series featuring Sam Gardner.
This article is featured in the January/February 2018 issue of The Saturday Evening Post. Subscribe to the magazine for more art, inspiring stories, fiction, humor, and features from our archives.
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