The day my younger brother brings over the first load of firewood always provides fodder for discussion at the dinner table. We talk about the chimney getting cleaned out, the amount and quality of wood delivered, if it’s stacked or not, and the biggest topic of all, when we’ll actually start up the wood stove. That is followed by reminders to my older brother and me to keep it going at night. At 81, mom shouldn’t be picking up wood any more than necessary. Starting up the wood stove signifies winter is right around the corner. It seems we start it earlier every year. With the first load delivered last week, Mom was anxious to get the season started.
“Do you think we need a fire?” Mom rubbed her thin arms together excitedly, “It feels pretty cold!”
“Hmmm,” My mind, as usual, had returned to my grading.
Nothing doing. Mom wanted confirmation. “Well, the temperatures are gonna dip down–“
“Oh, yeah? Yeah, I guess so.” I groaned inwardly. Here we go again with all that work.
“Your dad always started it up about this time of year,” Mom sighed.
I looked up. “Yeah, I know.”
My grading forgotten, I gave her my full attention. After four years of being home again, I’d begun to pick up on the rhythm of my parents’ life together. Fifty years of routine doesn’t end with the passing of a lifetime partner. It goes on like clockwork.
“Yeah, it is getting cold. I guess it’s time we stoke up the old stove.”
I’d like to say I took the time to start the first fire but I got distracted by the exams waiting to be marked. The next afternoon when I arrived home from work, I looked up and saw a thin curl of smoke fill the chilly air. I smiled. Late fall had arrived. I went down to the house from my wood loft. The warmth of the wood stove filled the house below. Mom was cooking dinner in the kitchen. She looked more content that I had seen her in awhile.
“Good job, mom!” I went down to throw a few pieces in the stove. As usual, I thought of my father. The wood stove was dad’s department, and he kept it on his turf: the basement.
I picked up my father’s old work gloves to tend to the firewood. I always use Dad’s old leather gloves, though they now have small holes in two of the fingers. Though my mom misses my father every day, she isn’t sentimental about his things. Earlier this year, she bought a new pair of work gloves. She was ready to toss out Dad’s gloves when I stopped her.
“Hey, I use those for the wood stove!”
“What? They have holes in them. They’re no good anymore.”
“They’re okay. The leather is still good.”
In fact, I loved the feel of the leather. It was ground smooth by the constant contact with the rough wood, and the iron handle of the stove. I took them now. The gloves, some dirty shade of faded red, held my own fingers which felt like mere twigs inside as I gripped the warm, matted cotton that once fit my father’s hands so snugly. As I grasped a well-seasoned piece of kindling, I bent my fingers to lift it and noticed deep creased crevasses permanently etched into the gloves where my father’s own fingers had curled around the wood he’d fed into the stove for so many winters. I threw in a few more pieces of firewood and firmly closed the door to the wood stove.
Before I left the basement, I put the gloves aside behind a coke bottle, so that mom would not be tempted to toss them out any time soon.