My gaze turned from the swaying fire tongues in the fireplace to the phantoms of memories that entered and danced around the living room. As Thanksgiving was drawing near, I reminisced over the old memories that surrounded the place where I sat—the hearth of the fireplace.
I had been peacefully watching the fire. The flames had smoldered the brick ledge enough to slowly steam my silk pajama pants and warm my legs as I sprawled out on the bricks. The dead cinders nearest to the metal screen heated my left side, and the flapping streamers of blue flames glazed a yellow glow on my forehead—a rather large forehead covered mostly by my bangs. The mantel above my head shadowed a dark square over my crown.
I looked at the living room that had not changed much in the last twenty-one years. One couch lined the wall under all of the old family photo frames that Mom had put up and only recently changed in the past three decades. A piano sat in the corner underneath a painting of a lion cub—an original painting from a woman with dementia whom my family had visited. Her husband had gifted it to us after she had died. To the left were two large windows in the doorframes looking out into the pastures where the horses grazed. In the middle of the room was a large wood coffee table with multiple album books from my brothers’ weddings.
The more I thought about it, the more I realized many of my core memories were attached to the hearth. I could track moments from my childhood back to happening all around the hearth of the fireplace. If only brick and mortar could speak to remind me of my youth.
Suddenly, the hearth seemed to take on a power. As if it could teleport to memories, I was gusted away to times past. All around the hearth, I could see the old phantoms acting out the scenes in front of me. Mirages of moments familiar.
Five puppies warming around the fire with one in my hand. Dad had given me a big job. I had to feed the puppies warm milk with a dropper next to the fire. It was an unusually cold day, and the new litter couldn’t take the cold outside. Daddy always let us “experience life”—at least that’s what he called it. That usually meant we got puppies or kittens, or we raised a flying squirrel or injured blue jay. Oh, what fun it was to see what we would “experience” next!
“What’s fiancé?” My six-year-old self looked up at my older brother and his newly engaged girlfriend. In my young mind, I thought, But you were going to marry me. That had always been my plan. Who else was going to buy me ICEEs and drive me in his big red truck? But I guess I could settle for being a flower girl. Oh, how innocent love is as a child.
“If you’re going to sit by the fire, you need to focus,” Mom reminded us for the second time. It was a privilege to get to do schoolwork in front of the fire. My younger sister and I stopped chortling and worked on the next grammar problem. Maybe Mom wouldn’t make us write a summary paragraph again today. But, oh, how simple life was when it was just the two of us learning at home.
“. . . the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” I quoted the last verse of Romans 8 to my parents. Everyone applauded. Joanna was next to say it. I was a little happy when she messed up one more time than me. We always got a prize at the end of memorizing a chapter of the Bible. We got to go skiing in Indiana and see snow for the first time. Oh, how joyful it was to do well and be noticed.
“I’ve had enough!” one of us yelled. My younger sister and I were not allowed to fight when Mom was around, so we waited until she was gone. At around ages seven and ten, we fought for our privileges, even the quarter inch of cake that one of us had cut too small when dividing it between the two of us. It got louder and louder until, suddenly, I threw up my fists, and then she did too. We both stopped and stared like we were both looking at a mirror. Bursts of laughter. Shrieking at how ridiculous we looked, she and I hugged and decided to be friends. Oh, how simple life was when we forgave each other the first time.
Dad opened the small box, and in it was an emerald ring, my birthstone. I had always wanted to turn thirteen so he would give me a special ring. He asked me if I would trust him to let him choose the right man for me, and I said I would. I was a little embarrassed he was making such a big deal out of it. But inside, I felt special. Oh, how innocent life was when I just trusted my dad.
Joanna banged down on the piano in the living room while Mom and I cleaned the dishes in the kitchen. A man at church had commented that she played like a train chugging down the train tracks. It was true she wasn’t afraid to play loudly, but I don’t think she liked that description. It was fun to work to the beat of her fingers. Oh, how happy it was to work together.
I realized, as I watched the old scenes fade, that the center of these memories was not the hearth—the location—but the people that made them. I could not be thankful for a place but for the people that made that place.
As I write this, I am not sitting on the hearth but in my dorm room waiting to go home next week for Thanksgiving. But I am looking forward to sitting on my hearth to see where the warmth of that brick will transport my thankful heart.
This Thanksgiving, what memories will heat the hearth of your thankful heart?