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The Truth, Mainly - 11/05/1990

Woodburning stove project fills the home with warmth, smoke

On chilly nights now, I light a fire in our woodburning stove and feel warm and self-reliant.

"See how warm and self-reliant we are?" I ask my wife. "Minnegasco and LES can eat their hearts out."

But it hasn't always been this easy.

It is 1964 and we finally have a house of our own and I can no longer control my lust for fire.

"We'll get one of those free-standing fn-eplaces," I tell my wife and kids. "We'll put it in the basement and build fires in it We'll have fun. We'll get warm. We'll roast weenies."

MY WIFE ROLLS her eyes and my kids start crying.

"Hush," she tells them "It's just Daddy's pyromania acting up again. He'll be all right after he burns something."

I go to Wards and buy a $130 stove on sale for $99, then I pick up stovepipe at a furnace place. They tell me it won't draw unless I get the chimney higher than the roof, but I know they're just trying to sell stovepipe. They say I need 25 feet, but I wasn't born yesterday. I buy five feet.

"Shouldn't you get somebody to install this?" my wife says. "Somebody who knows what he's doing?"

"Self reliance," I say. "Cavemen built their own fires."

THE KIDS START crying again and my wife rolls her eyes.

"I think I'll take a walk," she says. "But I'll leave the kids to help you."

So my 5-year-old son and I unpack the stove while my 3-year-old daughter whimpers and holds her blanket to her face.

"Now," I say, "the first thing we need is a hole for the chimney pipe. So the fire will be inside and the smoke will be outside."

I get a hammer and break out one of the panes in the basement window. My son looks worried and my daugher says,"I'm gonna tell."

I cut a piece of masonite the size of the broken pane, put a hole in it for the chimney pipe to fit through, and wedge it into the opening where the glass was. The pipe sticks out the window maybe a foot.

"THAT'LL DO," I tell the kids. "Smoke wants to go up."

My son looks dubious and my daughter says again, "I'm gonna tell."

By this time, my wife is back from her walk. My daughter tells.

"You broke a window?" my wife asks.

"To let the smoke out, " I say.

"Oh, " she says. "Good thinking."

We gather fallen twigs and branches from the yard and I wad up newspaper and put it in the stove with the twigs on top.

"Here we go," I say, striking a match. "Gonna warm up this cave."

The paper catches and the twigs begin to burn, but the smoke doesn't go up the pipe. It comes out the front of the stove.

"The smoke," my wife says, "is staying in the house."

The Truth, Mainly


"The pipe just needs to get hot so it will draw," I say. "It'll be all right Now we'll put in some bigger wood. Then we'll roast weenies."

BUT THE SMOKE keeps coming out the front.

"That's funny," I say. "It's supposed to go up."

"It isn't funny," my wife says, "and it is going up." She points to the stairway.

"Probably we just need a hotter fire," I say. "We'll put more wood on. Then it'll be all right. We'll have fun."

By now, we're coughing and our eyes are watering. I'm squatting by the fire, putting more wood on.

"Look," I say. "If you squat down like this, you get under the smoke. It's not so bad."

My wife and kids squat down beside me. The smoke is rolling up the stairs into the kitchen and living room and bathroom and bedrooms. We hunker closer to the floor.

"Tell me again, " my wife says. "Why are we doing this?"

"BECAUSE," I say, wiping my eyes, "it's fun."

"No," she says. "This is not fun. This is crazy. This is a house, not a cave, and it's full of smoke."

"I'll get the weenies," I say, and I stand up and feel my way along the wall to the stair. My wife and kids follow me up.

"Don't go back down there," she tells the kids. "Ever."

She opens all the windows and doors. In a couple of hoUrs, the fire dies out and by bedtime most of the smoke is gone.

"It's cold in here," I say. "Isn't it?"

"Yes," she says, "and it smells like a Neanderthal fire sale. The kids smell like little slabs of bacon. You're a pretty good husband but you've ruined the curtains and you smell like a smoked turkey."

"I'm cold," I say.

"I wanna weenie," my son says.

"I'm gonna tell grandma," my daughter says.


Satterfield is a college professor and writes as a means of discovery.


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used with permission