The charisma of calefaction
If I were Webster I would define ''charisma'' as ''that which exudes warmth and brilliance, that which characterizes a personality able to draw in others.'' There are, according to that definition, three charismatic individuals in my household, all dissimilar yet unhappily alike.
On the surface they have these familial characteristics - a will of iron and an uprightness that gives not one inch to my pleading for a portion of leniency or elasticity. Everything must be done their way or else. I am always the one at fault if things go wrong. Perhaps it is salutary to have to live with them, because I have had to develop a generosity of nature.
To look at, they are quite ordinary wood stoves, but do not be fooled. They are smug tyrants. If I don't do things precisely their way, they turn such a cold shoulder I am tempted to leave home and live in an apartment with baseboard heaters. But they know, these three, in the depth of their embers, that I will never retreat.
Starting from the top floor, there is the femme de luxem in my upper studio, very expensive, having been imported from France, extremely elegant in the French manner. She is determined to have no logs that are not cut exactly to her requirements, and if I do not keep blowing on the embers she ejaculates ''Imbecile!''m and becomes a sooty mess. The very practical and Yankee old female in the kitchen has a neat trick of bursting open her firebox and scattering embers if I do not put in her logs just so. I keep an eye on that one.
Max, though, is the one who would like to take up all of my time. In his huge and squat manner he presides over the new wing of our millhouse, his gold-painted feet like lion's paws (and male lions are notorious for having their females wait on them). Here is where my winter students, artists and writers, gather each week to create. They are all women, and I suspect this causes Max to show off. Since our lessons begin at nine in the morning, I start at eight to coax Max into a semi-kindly mood. But he will not begin to exude even a spark of life unless he is first fed the driest of twigs, not even a little green or slightly damp. We have gone to extraordinary lengths this year to gather great clumps of these. Is Max grateful? Not he. By the time my students arrive he is so faint-heated that I must persuade them to keep on their jackets awhile.
Then Jacqueline, the pretty, vivacious artist, draws close to Max, literally coos at him, and reproves me. ''You have to rake the coals closer, see, like this.'' And she does exactly what I have already done. Max, the hypocrite, suddenly glows with warmth.
Max knows no middle ground, he blows either hot or cold, there's seldom a cozy warmth near him. If he resists my early morning efforts (and lets his coals die out when my back is turned), I pile on more twigs, then kindling, finally small logs and a couple of big hunkers. Suddenly Max turns on a fiery passion so that I am compelled to retreat to the other end of the room until his ardor has cooled down.
I've said he blows only hot or cold, but he also blows smoke rings that drive me to tears and leave smudges on the ceiling. He blames the shortness of the chimney to which I have chosen to attach him (a misalliance he calls it). But I know the smoke is pure moodiness, like the Black Irish. If Max wrote books they would have surly, somber themes, not a trace of sweetness and light. You have only to look at his sooty innards to tell what is going on inside him. That occasional rosy glow is not bonhommie, it is a burning protest against things that don't go his way. The logs are too dry or the bark is damp. He is like The Man Who Came to Dinner and never stopped complaining.
A friend of mine confided that when her home was empty of anyone who needed her ministrations, it was comforting to have a wood stove to take care of. Perhaps, just perhaps, this is what Max has in mind. He may feel that my spinsterhood requires a demanding masculine presence and that I should feel grateful for his charismatic testiness. I am not grateful.
It is not at all easy living with two prima donnas and a temperamental basso. When Max heatedly pushes me out of the workshop, I retreat to the elderly lady in the kitchen, hastily feeding her small logs. And when she in turn proves too heated, I run upstairs to the French sophisticate, who fusses over the quality of newspapers I serve. By bedtime I have had enough of all of them and slink into the coolth of my bedroom, where there is no wood stove. There I may shiver under the covers, but it is peaceful without those demanding crackling voices, and I sleep in uncharismatic quiet.