This article was originally printed in the Statesman Journal newspaper on August 17, 1981.
When Elsie and I built our little beach cabin in 1947 out of $345 in reclaimed Camp Adair lumber, windows and doors, the one project we refused to tackle was construction of the fireplace. We blocked in the foundation and hired a brick mason.
I'll never forget my first view of that fireplace, a monstrous thing that dominated the room. Not only was it big, it was ugly. [Click on the fireplace at left to see photos of the fireplace removal.]
Its immense mantel immediately became a collection point for odds and ends, assuring a cluttered look to the room. It devoured wood with a passion.
In the years before I bought a chainsaw, I begrudged every stick of hand-sawed wood placed on the fire. I put a motto on the mantel reading "Cut your own wood and it will warm you twice."
Even with a chainsaw, the task of hauling driftwood from the beach grew arduous. This spring we decided to join the energy-efficient cult and insert a small wood-burning stove into the maw of the fireplace.
The stove arrived in June. It soon became apparent that inserting it in this particular fireplace would not be simple. Its heavy-gauged metal interior defied easy insertion. The chimney wasn't adequately lined.
Our two older sons suggested the unthinkable: Tear out the entire fireplace, brick by brick, and substitute a modern, triple-walled stainless steel metal stack.
The thought of starting at the top and chipping away each brick-and disposing of all that debris-was more than I could comprehend.
They explained, however, that Elsie and I had been responsible for maintaining the cabin for 34 years. The next 34 would be their responsibility. They wanted an efficient, easily-cleaned stove and stack.
Once we'd agreed to let them demolish the fireplace and chimney, our every suggestion was met with "We'll take that into consideration." This is a son's way of saying "Just leave us alone, Dad, and we'll get the job done."
I still find it hard to believe the fireplace is gone-vanished without a trace. Well, almost without a trace.
There still is a small stack of uncleaned brick outside the cabin. Inside, however, is a beautiful little black stove sitting on a brick hearth, backed by a brick wall. The room looks half again as large.
Ahead lies the pleasurable task of learning to understand this new wood-burning instrument. I will write next week about this adventure.
The absent fireplace leaves more than a physical void in the room. Without our realizing it, the ungainly thing had woven itself into the way we used the cabin. Now we mustn't throw cantaloupe rinds and corncobs into that little stove, for example.
And how we miss that mantel. All the treasures for decades of beachcombing expeditions ended up there, the most recent prizes at the front. These would gradually be pushed back by newer additions. The entire assortment was gleaned through when the collection grew too large.
The mantel became a haven for escapism. A dozen or so puzzles were scattered around its top. Our book collection had its beginning along one side of the mantel, featuring science fiction and books about the Coast.
A few years ago, it graduated to a series of bookshelves, but more flotsam and jetsam took its place. A dozen or more grimy glass floats were included, along with light bulbs bearing Japanese inscriptions.
At the back stood a rusted tin can bearing the words "Lifeboat Emergency Rations." This had washed up after World War II. We had just put it on the mantel and forgotten it for over 30 years.
Now, however, we have no natural collection point for all those six legged starfish and other junk. A few pieces and some of the puzzles are scattered around the windowsills. But the demise of the fireplace has forced us into a new era, one in which sentiment must be submerged and treasures discarded.
Elsie and I stood looking at the Lifeboat Emergency Rations tin last week, wondering where to put it. Its time had come. We opened it.
Inside we found a half-dozen crystallized Hershey bars, a few dozen cellophane-wrapped fruit drops, two dozen hardened biscuits and two sealed cans of fruit pemmican.
The pemmican will go into backpacking supplies. The biscuits still are good, and the fruit drops are delicious. They all sit in a bowl on the dining room table. They won't last long.
Everything, it seems, has its time limit--even as permanent a fixture as that huge old brick fireplace.
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