I love winter because I love its opposite: warmth. I love mugs of tea and hot chocolate. I love chunky scarves and my white wool mittens. I love soup and slippers and my down comforter. I love my cuddly husband and the fact that he doesn’t mind me putting my icy feet against him as we fall asleep. You know my favorite thing about winter? I love the fires Dad builds in the potbelly stove. Now that’s warmth…the physical and figurative kind. As soon as I walk into my parents’ home, I head for the stove. I stand so close and so long that I sometimes have to jump away with a little yelp. But it feels wonderful. I can’t help thinking of the part in Little Women when Jo is scolded for singeing her dress by standing too close to the fire. That little stove equals family and comfort. It also represents hard work. For my entire life, I’ve watched my dad build fires in the potbelly stove. He gathers kindling, pieces of wood and scraps of newspaper. He slowly and carefully builds a fire that will last indefinitely. He tends that stove like a baby—sprinkling coal, checking the draft, and shaking down the ashes several times each day. Mom, of course, is an integral part of the system, too. On many occasions, she’ll end our phone conversation with an announcement that she “better go. Dad doesn’t want the fire to go out,” and she’ll hang up to add a bit of coal. It’s quite a routine, but the results are a long-lasting, toasty source of heat that keeps the whole house warm. Sometimes too warm! It’s not a surprise to see Mom cracking the doors a bit on a January evening.
The little potbelly stove reminds me that my parents went to a lot of trouble to keep me warm, safe, healthy, and happy. More than that, they provided a life that wasn’t ordinary. They taught me that the usual way of doing things isn’t always the best way, that a little extra work is worth the results, and that building a simpler life leads to a closer family and a greater appreciation for God’s blessings. I’m trying to create that kind of life for my husband and my sons. It’s a struggle to fight against the typical American lifestyle, but I’m doing my best to keep our focus on the things that matter, to keep those little hands and little minds busy with creativity and love.