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"Fires That Warmed My Heart"

You might find it strange to see a photo of firewood as the most recent banner image selected, but I chose it for a reason. So far, this winter season has been somewhat inconsistent. We've had some very cold days and several mild ones.

Last weekend we experienced a mix of snow, sleet, blustery winds, and bitter temperatures. Even at night, as I laid in my bed, I could hear the wind whistling through the cracks of my windows. You would think these extreme temperatures would cause me to dislike this sort of weather. Strangely enough, I enjoy the changing temperatures. My reason: my father loved it. It was his excitement over pending snowstorms, sleigh rides, ice skating, and snowball fights which caused my brothers and I to be filled with excitement. But there is something extra which makes these frigid days into special memories - warm fires in the fireplace.

I couldn't even guess how many fires we've made over the years. I just know we had a lot. We ate popcorn, watched movies, played games, listened to music, and even slept in front of our fireplace as the fire blazed and heated the entire living room. On many occasions, my parents hosted dinners and various gatherings to welcome friends and family into our home. It was their way of opening their hearts and expressing their love. After dinner, mom and dad would escort them into our living room and they would always lead one of our guests to the cozy, reclining chair which was close to the fireplace. Time after time, I watched my father guide people into that chair. Sometimes he even took off the guest's shoes and placed a cozy blanket over their legs and feet (I'm not sure...maybe it's an Italian thing). From a distance, I observed my parents serve people in their own distinct way. They made their visitors feel as if they were VIP guests. And in their unique way, my parents used our fireplace to help create a sense of love and care within our home.

Who would ever think that a fire could elicit such feelings, especially when fires have the capacity to destroy and cause much harm. Yet, in our home, the fireplace held a special place in our hearts, and still does. Whenever the Weather Channel or local news anchor predicted a potential snow storm, my father would turn to his three sons and with a big grin say, "I think it's going to be cold enough for a fire." Filled with anticipation, we began planning our day off from school. For us, this meant time in the snow, sledding or tobogganing with my dad and brothers. And then in the evenings, we would eat Mom's wonderfully prepared meals and watched movies right in front of our fireplace. It was understood that dinners were always eaten at the dinner table; however, on these occasions, my parents would make an exception and allow us to sit in front of the fire.

Did you ever wonder how a controlled fire not only warms us physically, but also warms emotionally? What is it about dried wood burning in a fireplace that has such a positive effect on us? What makes it so romantic for couples to snuggle up by a fire? More personally, what made those family experiences (in front of our fireplace) so special? I think the profoundness is located in the simple fact that it can cause us, as humans, to come together. Having such demanding lives, warm fires allow us to share that sacred space with each other. It helps us to listen and be real. It allows us, for a brief moment, to see the gifts we are to one another. It is here that we are reminded of what we truly value.

Our fireplace brought us together on many occasions and still does. I have my parents to thank for creating that special sense of intimacy that I now cherish so much. Whenever I smell the scent of chimney smoke, I must pause even if it's just for a moment, for within that brief period of time, something happens: my heart is stirred as my thoughts carry me back to the days I once spent with my father, mother, and two amazing brothers right in front of our fireplace.

Day by day, I'm learning how not to take for granted even the most simple things in life, including something as plain as a pile of firewood. My sensibilities are continually hit with memories of life with my father and family. Of course I would love the opportunity to build another fire for my dad. But these days, I still enjoy making a fire for my mother and brothers. Perhaps, one day I will get that opportunity to build a toasty fire for my wife and children, with hopes of passing on the intimacy that was shared and passed on to me by my family.