Just Add Fire
Everything’s better with a fireplace. Any room in the house – even the bathroom. Any restaurant. Lobbies of buildings. Overnight accommodations of every kind. An outdoor campsite. Conversely, the absence of a fireplace diminishes. The space without a hearth lacks a heart.
For me, a living space without a fireplace never fully functions as a “home.” Whenever I’ve allowed myself to briefly move into a place, however well designed, that couldn’t boast a fireplace, I wasn’t able to settle there.
I have no way of explaining this deep yearning. The blazing flames in my home fireplaces warmed my heart more than my limbs. For that, I’ve been dependent on central heating. Gas or electricity provides the heat necessary to prepare my food. Yet, there it is – the pull of the hearth, an instinct burned into my DNA that thrives beyond necessity.
Come and Gather
When I recounted the story of our disastrous honeymoon in an earlier blog post, the one pleasant moment in the story pictured me ensconced before a huge stone fireplace, settled into a big, soft couch, my injured leg propped on an ottoman warmed by the blazing flames, whose fiery dance held me mesmerized. For that brief period, I could forget my pain and disappointment.
Why did the lodge have that gigantic hearth? It certainly didn’t need it. It was well warmed by a central air furnace. Yet, you know as well as I do, that no self-respecting ski lodge can hope to be successful without an apres-ski spot to gather around a fire – oh, sure, there can be a bar. In fact, there must be, but it could be fatal to not also include a fireplace.
This is the same mystic that lured Jay and me into abandoning a relatively spacious one-bedroom apartment with a dining room and an eat-in kitchen in Rogers Park in the Spring of 1968 to move to a more expensive, much smaller apartment at 747 North Wabash. As I write, that address sits smack in the middle of a very high-rent district of Chicago. When Jay and I made our move, however, the area was a bit on the skids.
Rush Street, once the center of Chicago nightlife, had lost its luster. Its brightest lights were those of the all-night laundromat. Shops on Michigan Avenue had boarded up windows and moved to the suburbs. For us, what the neighborhood lacked in glamor, it more than made up for in Bohemian allure. Our new home, a studio apartment, had been built in the 1920s as a haven for artists. Bouncy cork tiles covered the floor. The ceilings soared twelve feet overhead, and three mammoth windows flooded the room with unwavering light. Best of all, and the true reason we moved, the main wall featured a wood-burning fireplace. Never mind that it didn’t actually have a kitchen per se. Rather the tiny oven and fridge were stuck in a closet as were the narrow sink and the two-burner hot plate.
Moving to that apartment marked a major shift in our lives. Jay had not only finished law school but had passed the bar and was a practicing attorney. Earning my bachelor’s degree freed me from attending classes and paying tuition. I took advantage of my liberty to sign onto a less secure position – that of an associate editor/secretary at a trade magazine whose office was walking distance from our home.
No longer obligated to spend our evenings studying, Jay and I created our own version of the bohemian lifestyle. True, we both had regular jobs with demanding hours, but those were our only obligations. Childless children of healthy parents, we utilized our nonworking hours with lively abandon. At night we crawled out our window and onto the roof of the building next door and drank cheap wine while gazing at the Chicago skyline eight blocks away. And we left the windows open at night and burned small cozy fires even in the summer.
For a year, we relinquished our biggest concern – our infertility. We allowed ourselves to completely relax into being “just the two of us.” With both of us working, we could afford an occasional meal out and the neighborhood offered a plethora of choices. The best possible entertainment was happening just three blocks away. Michigan Avenue was awakening from its mid-twentieth century slumber. Every day, the John Hancock Tower rose higher and higher against the crisp blue of a Chicago winter sky. By the time, construction topped off in May 1968, many of the boarded-up storefronts along the “Boule Miche” had shed their shutters. New retail shops and restaurants joined the stalwarts who had held the fort through the hard times.
It wasn’t, of course, just our little neighborhood that underwent a titanic transformation that spring. A multitude of new winds swept the country and the world in 1968. Some were strong, fresh winds of new ideas. Other malevolent storms brewed in hatred and fear. All restructured the world Jay and I knew as children. When we did finally become parents, we confronted far different challenges than our parents could ever have imagined. Many engendered by the changes of 1968.
How those major shifts engaged and altered ourselves and our lives is a tale for another post. But then, as now, we continued to find solace by curling up and contemplating the brightly leaping fire.
It seemed — in 1968 — the possibilities of peace and brotherhood could be realised that very year. We’re still working on it.
- Donovan, during a performance for “Beatle Week” in Liverpool (27 August 2006), as prelude to singing “Hurdy Gurdy Man“