“Dad, I think we should install a fireplace in our living room.”

I sat on the edge of the rocking chair—elbows on my knees, sales pitch ready.

Dad sat in his green armchair. The chair was in recline position. Dad appeared to be in relax mode after a long day of work painting a house and fixing the renovation efforts of homeowners who spent their free time watching HGTV and making remodeling plans. I took the relaxed expression and the reclined chair to mean one thing: it was Dad’s office hour.

“Just think,” I said. “It would save on the heat bill. We have tons of trees outside that we could cut down and use for wood. It would be a backup heat source when the power goes out. We’d be less dependent on electricity. And, it would be sooo cozy.”

Dad smiled.

I sighed. I had seen that smile the last time I pitched a renovation plan. That time I had wanted to knock out a wall in my bedroom and create a window seat/reading nook.

Dad hadn’t exactly laughed at that idea. He had simply conveyed his complete faith in my ability to read in any and all conditions—with or (more significantly) without a reading nook.

But a fireplace was different from a reading nook. A fireplace would bring our family together. It would encourage a sense of well-being and contentment. It would recall and commemorate the heritage of our Appalachian culture. It would give our home a hearth. Didn’t every real home need a hearth?

Jump ahead to 2021 where the label on my personal timeline read “College Years.” Rain slanted under my umbrella, and a cold wind squeezed up my sleeves. I shivered beneath the sweater and coat that I had layered against the cold.

While I walked, I wished for a fireplace for the hundredth time in my life. Having a warm, crackling fire in a fireplace would feel like living in a fairy tale. I mean, even the ugly stepsisters in Cinderella had a fireplace—prince or no prince. But, despite the wishes, I knew even a fairy godmother couldn’t change the fire code of my college dorm, where toasters were off-limits and curling irons were viewed with a healthy dose of skepticism. Riding in a pumpkin carriage seemed feasible compared to a warm, cozy fireplace appearing in my college dorm room.

I peeked under the brim of my umbrella and saw lights shining in the window of my dorm room—or “dorm, sweet dorm” as one of my roommates called it. Someone’s home, I thought, still pondering the deficit of hearths in the world. I shook my umbrella by the door and climbed the steps to my room.

Home. It was a small word for a big thought. For me, home described the place where you slide through the kitchen on your sock feet. The place where you go hunting in the fridge like an explorer on a mission. The place where you don’t have to wear flip-flops in the shower. The place where people don’t think you’re crazy (they know you are). The place that still doesn’t have a hearth.

I walked into the dorm room—my home for now—and pulled off my jacket.

My roommate looked up from studying. “I turned on the tea water,” she said, using her own special phrase for boiling water for tea. “Do you want some?”

“Sure,” I said, heading to the cabinet to choose a teabag. I could hear the water boiling in the electric tea kettle. If a fireplace wasn’t an option, a cup of tea sounded like the perfect compromise.

My other roommate burst into the room and plopped her backpack on the floor.

“You will not believe what happened to me today.” She brushed her dark hair behind her ears and opened her eyes wide. “I can’t—I just literally, can’t . . .”

I grinned at her typical greeting and poured the hot water over the teabag in my mug.

Many things made a place feel like home—lights in the window, people who cared, stories about the day, laughter, talk, easy silence . . . so many things. But, thankfully, a hearth didn’t have to be one of them.