|Tending the Fire
I had done a series of posts earlier on coziness. That is to say, coziness during winter. This very winter seems to be an especially hard one. When I was younger, it would've weighed heavily on my soul, but now, in my middle age, I can finally appreciate the patience the old ones possessed in waiting out the winter. When I had posted the blog about Eldest brother David's first stove, a 55 gallon oil drum in the half-completed house built by our Pa, he reminded me how his father-in-law, a retired farmer, had fed wood into that stove in order to keep the building warm while our Pa continued to work on the house in the winter of '73 - '74. David's wife, dear Susie, was the youngest and favorite daughter of her dad, Leo Monette. Grandpa Leo was a gentle, humble farmer who possessed the quiet strength of his French-Canadian ancestors. I remember going to pick blackberries with Susie and her ma, Sue, while Grandpa Leo watched my baby nephew Dave. Sue, short for Sabina, who at age 95, still lives on her own at the home farm, was, and is, a strong-willed, tough countrywoman. (The Farmwife, Julie Murphree, would love her!) Nevertheless, this strong minded woman would stop still and attend whenever old Leo would quietly say her name. If you wanted to capture the essence of Grandpa Leo, just read Willa Cather's classic "Neighbor Rosicky." Both were elegant, European-styled men who carved a life for himself and his family on the American frontier.
Even though a farming accident in his 60s cost him his right hand, Grandpa Leo could still tend fire, and he did it like only an old countryman could do. To quote Hal Borland once again:
"The reasons are all twined with intangibles as thin as wood smoke. Man is a natural fire-tender, has been since ancient times. There is race pride, something reaching back to the cave man who first tamed fire. There is the instinct to bask safely in front of a fire while a hunk of buffalo meat simmers and wolves howl outside."
A similar quote which has stuck with me over the years was the line in the movie "Dances With Wolves" where John Dunbar described the wisdom of the aged Dakota chief Ten Bears:
"He reminded me that at his age, a good fire was better than anything."
Next time, a little more about Grandpa Leo. -- Gary