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To Build A Fire

This is the now-retro 60’s style Preway fireplace in our family cabin in Lake Tahoe, California. Apparently these things are all the rage and can fetch in excess of $1000 in decent refurbished condition. If you look at ads from the era, they often depict a classy-looking woman in form-hugging evening wear, standing beside the contraption with a cocktail and look that says ‘Don Draper’s late getting home for dinner.’ My parents got theirs around ’69 when they built the cabin, and it’s served well ever since. I didn’t appreciate my fireplace-endowed youth. We had two at home including one in the room my father built downstairs. He himself had a fireplace in nearly every room growing up. They weren’t wealthy and like everyone else lost all they had during the Depression, but his father did manage to salvage the family Victorian on Russian Hill in San Francisco by cashing in a life insurance policy.That was how they built the Victorians – stacked with fireplaces. Many years (and some financial good fortune) later, my folks bought a place above the Russian River in Geyserville, California, and it too had a great stone fireplace and a wood-burning stove. But for pure evocative worth and nostalgic impact, nothing comes close to the funky red wonder still smoking away at the cabin in Tahoe.

I’ve always told people that it was a Sears job, but I’m not certain that this is correct. The freestanding design allows for superior heating with that radiating from the back of the enclosure. A fireplace’s worth is only ever in relation to the outside temperatures, which can get notably chilly during Tahoe winters. We used to roast hot dogs and marshmallows as kids – something that would probably not be allowed by anyone forking over the big bucks to have one of these things fixed up these days. When I was a little older and up there with a girlfriend, she sat too close on the hearth with the Guild D-35 guitar I’d just acquired and sizzled the finish right off the back of it. I still have the guitar, too, and have grown fond of the break in the lacquer where I had it repaired.

My buddy Spears told me something a long time ago that stuck with me – “Nostalgia will be the next big thing.” He may have been about twenty years off, but his vision appears realized these days with the success of Mad Men, Instagram photo settings for iPhones, Polaroid film and cameras making a party comeback, and big bucks being fetched for these modular fireplaces. It’s somewhat ironic that in an era of exponential technological advancement, people long for old inventions. And it isn’t the Baby Boomers wanting to connect with way back when shelling out for this stuff either, but young tech-savvy sorts who never sent a roll of film away for developing. I could speculate on the reasons, including a theory or two on how the faster things move, the closer the end comes in to vision. But accurate or not, it would likely come off as the grumblings of a bitter old man, so I’ll save it for another time when I’m not reflecting on pleasant, heat-emitting memories of another place.

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