Sitting in the living room last week, I enjoyed the warmth and dance of a fire in the fireplace as I began reading “Team of Rivals,” the book by Doris Kearns Goodwin on which the film “Lincoln” was based, a Christmas present. It, too, had something to say about fires.
American schoolchildren have been taught that Lincoln, who grew up poor, huddled for warmth before one and educated himself reading by the light of an oil lamp. Ms. Goodwin does nothing to dispel that cozy, homespun image. Even more, she notes that sitting by a fireplace and reading were familial pleasures in the lives of most of those who were, like Lincoln, candidates for the Republican nomination for president in 1860. She tells us that one, Edward Bates, was a man who preferred the warmth of home and hearth to politics. I liked him immediately, as I sat by my fire.
I don’t know if it will still be cold on Thursday when this edition of The Star comes out, but I am likely to light a fire nevertheless. I do most winter evenings. The truth is, I am the fire-builder in my house — and rather impressed with my own skills. My husband has learned to back off, although he will sometimes try — unsuccessfully, I might add — to tell me what to do with this log or that poker. But many’s the time I’ve had to ask a visitor, struggling to get more than smoke (and invariably of the male persuasion), to please step aside and leave it to me. Reading by the fire, I am warmed by the thought of how pleasantly old-fashioned I’m being.
Unfortunately, however, this year I have a large store of precisely cut logs that — while nice and dry — are of a uniform, rather small size. My reading is interrupted as I have to keep getting up and down from my seat to replace logs that have burnt to ashes. (Although, I admit, this at least has the beneficial effect of keeping me awake as the hour gets late.) Better fires are made with logs of varying dimensions. Someone brought in a huge one a couple of weeks ago, which my husband dubbed the Yule log, and I’m still waiting to build up enough of a pyre to throw it onto. There’s no lack of kindling this winter, given all the winds and storms.
If reading about the comfort of life for some of this country’s prominent families in the 19th century rang a pleasant bell with me this week, reading last week about the inferno in Breezy Point and about Afghans suffering winter without heat in a refuge camp in Kabul brought me up short. As the new year loomed, I couldn’t stop thinking about how lucky we are, even in this.