Dearest Rachel –
Today’s letter was supposed to be about heading up to Camp Awana for a budget meeting, and my concerns about seeing the place for the first time since the accident. However, one of the guys I was to ride up there with got sick (again, probably just a cold rather than Covid, but you gotta take precautions these days regardless), so the meeting – and by extension, the trip – has been postponed for a week. So I have a little more time to consider the ramifications of going back there, and what I might find.
Jan will be coming over tomorrow for the first time this week, and as she’s gone through the bulk of the dining/family room combination, she’s given Daniel the task of clearing the area around the hearth – and in turn, charged me with laying down the law about the trash that you used to keep as fuel. Namely, that’s not to be a thing gong forward.
The thing is – and you know this – I was never much of a disciplinarian. Most of that was because I didn’t enjoy conflict, and decided to take a ‘live and let live’ approach to choices either you or Daniel made (such as the whole matter of bedtimes, for instance). Part of that was because, when I did put my foot down, I would lose my temper to a dangerous extent (Daniel could still tell about the fights we had regarding him doing his homework back in the day – I think we would usually get him to do it, but I am so mot proud of my yelling at him for waiting until the last minute). So most of the time, I chose not to have those kind of battles. Maybe that’s part of why we had so few fights – not every guy would deal well with the trash piled up in front of the fireplace.
Because you insisted that everything had its use, even garbage, and you were an utterly unapologetic firebug. And some days, you could get into one of those moods where you could plow through a pile of the stuff like Trogdor the Burninator (yep, another one of those pop culture references that became an inside joke among the three of us):
And I get it: certainly, between being made of cardboard, and absorbing ridiculous amounts of grease, pizza boxes – especially when rolled up into a somewhat cylindrical shape – made for excellent kindling. And the same went for whatever fast food containers – bags, wrappers, and whatever else stuff came in – not to mention all the mail from political campaigns and other solicitations your parents still receive even to this day.
But the stuff has a tendency to pile up, and it wasn’t as if every day was an ideal one to set things alight. I still recall you telling me about that time one July when, it being somewhat cool for that time of year (for whatever that could be considered to be worth), you set to burning some of the stockpiled rubbish, only for one of our neighbors to see the smoke and summon the fire department. As I recall, it was laughed over by all concerned sitcom-style, but you learned not to bother trying to use the fireplace during the summer, lest such a scenario repeat itself.
So, over the course of a summer (and a fair amount of the fall, as it didn’t really get all that cold right away) things would pile up around the hearth, and to either side of the hearth. And while you might go through a bunch of the trash during the winter, you never could quite bring the piles down to nothing – in fact, I’d go so far as to suggest you might have been afraid to bring them down to nothing, since that would mean we were running out of fuel for the winter before winter was over, and we just couldn’t have that.
But now that we’re cleaning up the house, Jan’s made it clear to me that I have to exercise my authority and say, “No, we’re not keeping actual garbage in the house for burninatin’.” Because Daniel’s taken up your mantle of resident firebug now. And while over the past couple of days, he’s gone through nearly everything around the fireplace, I’ve been instructed to make sure those piles don’t build up – or even get started on – again. Why, both Jan and Scott have offered that we can have any wood that they might have from their property – and as they live out in the exurbs, they have a fair amount of property to work with – that is for all intents and purposes, all the wood we might ever need at any given time.
I wonder how you would have felt about an offer like that had it been extended to us when you were around. I think you might have still found it hard to simply throw stuff out – better to use it for fuel than let it go into a landfill, you would probably conclude.
But you also must have been aware of the pollutant nature of what you were doing. I know you were concerned about the creosote buildup in our chimney, and we’d have sweeps in from time to time (whenever we’d think about it, which was probably a bit less often than we should have) to keep it at least clean enough to use safely. And while we would raise our eyebrows at our neighbor who would do his own firebug thing in his backyard on a regular basis, at least he was generally burning just yard waste (which, to be fair, was part of why the raised eyebrows, since I think we both were fairly sure that wasn’t allowed here in Cook County, but hey, we weren’t any better about that sort of behavior, we just kept it indoors, so we saw no reason to raise a fuss).
Similarly, Daniel seems to be accepting of the Olson’s offer. He tells me the Spirit has used the chimney as an analogy, a parable, if you will. All the garbage that we burn eventually clogs it up with unpleasant stuff, but when you burn wood, as intended for a fire, it serves to clean it out bit by bit – and so we must do with our lives. So yes, he seems content to switch from trash to wood-only…
…eventually. He still has a fair amount to send up the chimney before Jan gets here tomorrow, but he claims he’ll have it all taken care of by then. And at the rate he’s been going, I certainly believe him. You’d be proud of the job he’s been doing.
You’d probably be concerned about how little was left, but honestly, it’s a good thing, honey, really. It’s not that that part of the house doesn’t get heat without the fireplace, after all. And it’s so much less unsightly than it was with the piles of stuff and boxes of kindling sitting in front of it.
So we hope to keep it this way going forward, too. Wish us luck.