The Old Man sat at the mouth of the fireplace, so close orange waves played across his glasses when he looked up at me. He smiled at the armload of wood I carried as I came in from school.
“Long walk down the driveway?” he grinned, and I said it certainly had been.
“Windy, too, isn’t it?” he asked. I told him the school bus ride had me ready for it because some of the windows wouldn’t go all the way up.
I stacked the wood on either side of the grate to dry, round sticks to one side and split pieces on the other, then I dragged another chair up next to his and sat down, propping my feet almost inside the fire.
“There’s nothing like an open fire to make you feel at home,” he said. “When life feels like it’s getting away from you, it always feels good to go back to the simplest basics, and there’s not much that’s more basic than a good fire.”
“It’s not much good for heating the house with, though,” I said. “Why, back in the back rooms it’s cold as ice.”
“We’re not in the back rooms, though, are we?” he asked. “We’re only right here. That’s the thing about life — no matter how thin you spread yourself or how hard you try to be everywhere at once, you can really only be one place at a time.
“Sometimes you can feel like you’re getting a lot done the other way, but eventually you realize that’s mainly wishful thinking, and you can really only be one place at a time. You can really only be who and where you are.
“See, right now you’re thinking about it being cold in the back of the house while you’re sitting in the lap of the fire. You couldn’t be any better suited for comfort, but your mind won’t let you get comfortable.”
I thought about that for a while.
“Why is that, do you think?” I asked.
“It’s hard to say,” he said. “Maybe it goes back to Adam and Eve, or maybe it’s just part of the burden of having enough intelligence to think ahead, but not enough discipline to stop when the thinking gets pointless. Making yourself stop is like getting off a merry-go-round at recess. The ground right next to it still, so one step is all you have to take to get off, but you shouldn’t just stand there. If you don’t walk away from it, sooner or later you’ll step backward out of careless habit and it’ll snatch your feet right out from under you again. Building a good fire and watching it burn is one of the best ways to walk away.”