Space ran out last week after reminiscing about Granddaddy’s liniment. We’ll cover two other elements of that childhood memory today. It was the winter of 1956, I think, a few months after I turned four. Recollections of drinking water in bed and warming at the fireplace the next morning recently came to mind. Cleaning the mortar off old chimney bricks is what brought them to the surface.
My preference for sleeping in my own bed goes back to early childhood. It’s too late for therapy, so I’ll just stay the course as it suits me fine. More than likely I spent multiple nights with my mother’s parents, but there’s only one occasion I specifically remember. In addition to homemade liniment, water and fire made lasting impressions.
Granddaddy slept on a single bed, so it seems I would have bunked with Grandmama in her double. Maybe I wanted to sleep with him and he said okay, or perhaps I crawled in without asking. It wasn’t easy for me to fall asleep during childhood. I’d toss and turn and pull the covers loose, then finally drift off after an hour or so of frustration. Restlessness can make a fellow’s mouth dry, especially when he’s away from home.
“I’m thirsty, Granddaddy,” I said. He went to the kitchen and came back with a glass of water. I took a few sips while staying beneath layers of quilts in a house quickly chilling as embers turned to ash. He returned to bed, but not for long.
“I’m thirsty again, Granddaddy,” said a wide-awake kid. He walked across the cold floor to get more water. I drank a few sips and he lay down once more.
“Granddaddy,” I whispered for the third time, “I’m still thirsty.” He fetched a refill and was as pleasant as always. This time, however, he made sure my thirst was going to be quenched. “Little man,” he said with a smile, “you need to drink all the water you want so we can go to sleep.”
That memory has probably stayed with me because of hearing the story repeated many times. My grandfather was a gentle giant and glad to accommodate a restless grandchild asking for water. By the third trip to the kitchen in a frigid house, however, he was ready to call it a night.
The other thing I recall came just before dawn. We had a fireplace at home in our living room, but it was only used occasionally, mostly during the Christmas season. The rest of our house, where the living really occurred, was heated with gas space heaters.
Grandmama’s home back then was dependent on a sharp ax and four fireplaces. The main one was in a room which served as their kitchen, eating area, and den. I’ve seen enchanting fires in many settings, but the one which still glows the brightest was started and stoked by my grandfather.
Two andirons were stacked to the limit with split oak and fat lightered. The crackling pops of burning green wood and pleasing aroma of smoke lured me from a cozy bed. Flames were dancing up the chimney as the roaring fire shooed away the morning chill.
I’m glad I came along early enough to get a glimpse of life when fireplaces were the norm. It was a wonderful feeling to rotate near the hearth trying to bake both sides evenly. It didn’t occur to me that my warmth was possible because Granddaddy had spent hours in the cold chopping wood. Hopefully I’ll remember to thank him one day, and maybe share another laugh about a kid who couldn’t sleep.
As I was cleaning the mortar off those old chimney bricks, my first thought was the job might be a tad monotonous. But when I started listening to the stories they had to tell, a mundane task took me down a path of sweet reflections. I almost wished there were more bricks in the pile.
A short walkway at the back door is now an imperfect entry that takes me back to a rather perfect night. In those old bricks I smell the liniment Granddaddy was rubbing on his scarred legs and I’m thankful he no longer needs it. I see the kind-hearted man who left a cozy bed three times to get his grandson some water. And I hear the crackle of a fire that warmed a kid’s body and now warms his soul.
Solid bricks of old chimneys are what I love, their reddish-orange colors softly shaded with the soot of a thousand fires. If we listen quietly as the mortar is chipped away, old bricks have a lot of stories to tell.