The firewood was always freshly stacked in its brass bin by the fireplace in the den each winter afternoon. When I was little, I would try to carve this wood with the blade of the letter opener that sat with its matching pair of scissors and note pad by the telephone in the bar. This was the only blade that I could get my hands on. The logs were soft and prone to splintering and fraying. I succeeded only in making a small pile of splinters at best.

The fireplace stayed cold and dark all day no matter how cold it was. The reason for the fire’s existence was Dad. During the day, Mom stayed upstairs where the heat rose. I had my nice warm classroom.

Mom never mentioned the cold of the four decades of winters she spent in that house, but after I married and moved out, she unfailingly invited us to go to her condo downtown whenever we wanted so that we could warm up. I was always confused by her invitations which continued to be issued even though our furnace worked perfectly, until my husband remarked about how cold it had always been at my parents’ house.

My father’s job was to build a fire in the fireplace when he got home, after he mixed himself a fresh bourbon and water with a twist of lemon peel from a lemon whose rind had been slowly peeled away just like that over the past couple of days. He would fix a drink for himself:

  • first is the ice in the glass: one handful
  • one, or one and a half or two jiggers of bourbon which got delivered directly into the garage by people I never saw, on some sort of understanding and without the Ohio state tax stamps
  • water
  • a spoon of sugar
  • the twist of lemon peel sliced from lemons whose fruit was never used for anything else

He made a drink for Mom, as well, fresh from her afternoon’s bath. (“Always be fresh and ready when your husband comes home from work.”) Then, time for the news and homework.