It got cold last weekend—very cold—so when an invitation from dear friends to have Saturday dinner in front of their fireplace arrived, we jumped. You see, our house, much as we love it, has no fireplace and because it’s an old house with a historic pedigree, it never will. That’s a long and different story. So, yes, we’d love to come for dinner; what can we bring?
We’re town mice. Our friends are country mice who live right on the lovely little point where the East and West Forks of Langford Creek come together. That’s reason enough to venture out for dinner, but in winter, we don’t often go down to the dock to watch the sunset. But tonight, it’s the fireplace that draws us in; its glow warms us inside and out; the seasoned oak and cherry smells divine; the crackle punctuates our laughter. Throw in a delicious stew, a homemade cheesecake, and a few—don’t count!—bottles of wine and you’ll understand why we love to gather here.
Did I mention dogs? Two big, friendly, so-happy-to-see-you golden retrievers with some good years under their collars, the kind that jump up on the couch next to you, snuggle in, and let you rub their bellies after dinner. There’s just something about good dogs; better than blankets.
The women linger and chat at the table; the men talk quietly in front of the fire. There’s an upcoming adventure, a work-in-progress, a new car. Nothing too heavy to lift, no need to talk religion or politics. We’re all in the same little lifeboat.
Meanwhile, the fire in the grate goes through log after log, but no matter: there’s plenty of wood. Plus, there’s something atavistic and manly about poking a fire from time-to-time, whether it needs it or not. Plans get made; some may actually come to fruition, but even if they don’t, they help fill up a cold winter night. Up in the sky, a million stars are shining like shattered ice, but down here, in this snug room, all is calm and safe. The road ahead runs straight to the horizon.
It’s getting late. Time to go, but we really don’t want to break the spell. It’s hard to pry ourselves away: the fire, the dogs, the friends. We could stay and spend the night, but there’s something worthy about the idea of going home to meet tomorrow, even if home will be fireless and cold tonight.
I switched to water long ago, mindful of driving home late at night through stubble fields where deer are feeding. The ride back to town is comfortably quiet; we’re going slowly. Twice, I catch the gleam of our headlights trapped in deer eyes, but we each keep to our respective spaces. I like driving through this peaceful, midnight landscape and decide to take a backroad just to stretch the moment, make it last a minute or two longer.
Back home, we hurry upstairs to get under the covers. We talk quietly, mostly about what a wonderful evening it was, the food, the dogs, the friendship, and of course the fireplace. We fall asleep in the sweet remembrance of its warm and comforting glow.
I’ll be right back.
Jamie Kirkpatrick is a writer and photographer with a home in Chestertown. His work has appeared in the Washington Post, the Baltimore Sun, the Philadelphia Inquirer, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, the Washington College Alumni Magazine, and American Cowboy Magazine.
Two collections of his essays (“Musing Right Along” and “I’ll Be Right Back”) are available on Amazon. Jamie’s website is www.musingjamie.com.