By Mark E. Smith
Our 20-year-old is home for the weekend from college, work, and her own apartment in another state.
She and I are arranging logs in the fireplace. They’re not real logs, but ceramic ones.
“There’s a science to this,” I tell her, as she sits on her knees in front of our 19th-century fieldstone fireplace, first log in hand. “How the logs are positioned dictates gas flow, flame characteristics and heat efficiency.”
For almost 200 years, the fireplace in our farmhouse burned wood, but has been converted to a more-practical, modern gas set up. I push a button and it ignites. Not unlike what might happen with real wood, the ceramic logs fell out of place over the summer and now must be reset. My wife wanted to reset them weeks ago, with the fall chill, then the first dusting of snow. But, I asked to await the help of our daughter.
At her age, our daughter sees time as infinite. We all did. It’s like the stones in our fireplace that transcend mortality. How many fires have they seen come and go over generations? Yet, life is different – we learn that.
I, too, was once 20, with nothing but time. Then, I realized that time shifts as we age, becoming tangible. Life brings the abruptness of change and loss, and we awake one day with an intimate understanding of time – gone.
My daughter and I study the log installation guide and talk about her schooling as she carefully, methodically aligns each log in a lifelike but scripted pattern.
This all began when she was 10, helping me wash our van. It started as a chore, but as she moved into her adolescence and teenage years, the van was lost in the background to our father-daughter conversations, safety for all to come out, a bucket and water hose a ruse as to what it was truly going on, the talks and emotions. Those years, like the cornerstones they were, seemed like they would last forever. Time, though, found its way into our life, a meandering of wonderful events, that took us from the present to the future to new presents that showed me that time wasn’t as it once seemed, that it does pass, that it’s not infinite – and that’s the way it should be. Children grow up, fathers age, time passes, change occurs. But, like the mortar of life, we still cling to the memories of what’s passed.
My daughter sets the last log and I press the button, igniting the flames. The fireplace flickers with authenticity and timelessness, another winter is here.
“Resetting these logs might be a new annual tradition, “ I say and she smiles.