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Compromise Keeps The Home Fires Burning

It sits majestically in our living room, looking just a little worse for wear. The cheap metal door handle is a replacement for the handsome wooden one it came with. And its weight is supported by two bricks placed under each of its four corners; the original legs long gone. But, if it has lost a few battles, it has definitely won the war.

Just after we moved into our new (circa 1941) house last spring, my husband buffed the wood stove to its original smoky-colored sheen, polished the window in the door until it shone crystal clear, then moved it into a place of honor.

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"See all these vents?" I pointed out while walking the perimeter of the living room. "Why, I'll bet that stove could heat the whole house from down in the cellar."

"But I want it here," answered my husband as he set the thing down, "where I can see it from there," motioning toward our supremely comfortable couch.

My husband loves everything about a wood stove; from cutting and stacking wood, to coaxing a fire out of a few pieces of newspaper, several sticks of wood, and a match. He even loves the smell his hair and clothes take on when he's got a roaring fire going, opens the stove, and is briefly enveloped in a cloud of smoke before he shoves in the log and closes the door.

The problem is, I am from the fireplace school of thought. I was raised in California, where a fire is enjoyed for its aesthetic value. My husband, a born-and-bred New Englander, appreciates a fire for its ability to keep one warm - something a wood stove does quite nicely.

Soon after we were married and living in Maine, we rented a home, during which time I began my wood-stove apprenticeship. That first stove was extremely short and narrow, and I was squeamish about feeding wood into it. Many were the times I would jerk the door open and shove in the shortest pieces of wood I could find, only to have them protrude through the open door.

This always caused panic as I struggled with the door before yanking out the now-smoldering wood and depositing the mess on the floor. I felt fairly certain that, one day, I would burn down the house.

While I was not fond of dealing with wood stoves, I felt no resentment toward them until the day came when we were ready to build our own home. To my husband, who was designing as well as building the house, I made one modest request: that the house have a fireplace.

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"Fireplaces are totally inefficient means of heating" he replied, "and allow warm air to escape right up through the chimney."

"But is there anything so romantic as an open fire?" I countered. "And besides, the house is designed to be energy efficient. It won't cost much to heat, anyway."

Several days later, my husband came home with what he thought was the perfect compromise; "There," he said, beaming. "See? Now you can watch the fire!"

There it sat triumphantly at my feet; the smoky-colored wood stove with a large window in the door. I wish I could say that I was gracious about it. I was not. Although I accepted the finality of it, I also washed my hands of it. I refused to make or maintain a fire.

Three years later, we had to sell our beloved home - the home for which my husband had cleared the land and laid the foundation. Adding insult to injury, we would be moving into a house that could not accommodate a wood stove.

When the new owners, who were moving in from out of state, inquired where they might purchase a wood stove, I offered them the use of ours.

Eventually, the stove was returned to us, its handle breaking off in the process. We kept it in the garage, where it gathered dust, slowly taking on the look of neglect.

THEN, last spring, when we were ready to buy another home, we fell in love with the first house we look-ed at. It was small but charming. We were both enthralled. For me, it was the French doors leading into the living room and the secluded deck off an upstairs bedroom.

For my husband, it was the massive storage area in the cellar, the wooded yard, and the low rock wall. And for both of us, the fireplace. Finally, I thought happily; a blazing fire on a frigid snowy evening.

"Finally," sighed my husband, eyes shining."We can have our wood stove back. It will fit nicely, right inside the fireplace."

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