Everything and Nothing: The Real Wife

Aïda Rogers

Posted Jan. 19, 2022

By Aïda Rogers

I imagine everybody gets a surprise or two after they get married, so imagine mine when I realized the person I married was already married – to his wood stove. It took a few years for me to catch on, but boy, am I clear on this now. Ten years of scouting for wood, piling it into the truck, trunk or trailer, hoisting it out of the truck, trunk or trailer and into another pile to await extradition via wheelbarrow to another pile where it hangs out until energy is mustered to guide it on its continuing journey to ash – this is not a bride’s dewy dream of romance.

So let it be said that I’m not in love with this process. It is not with a smile on my face that I participate in his need for contained fire within the home. “Love is patient, love is kind,” I chant as I lug in a canvas bag of split wood, trailing bits of bark and dirt to be swept up someday. My jaw sets when I’m called outside to help with the log-splitter, a motorized miracle that eliminates the need for crosscut saw and ax. (I guess I should be grateful.)

Using the log-splitter isn’t so bad once you start. The sound of thick oak or pecan cracking is as pleasurable as watching the steel blade driving into the wood. Sometimes the logs behave, cleaving open to reveal beautiful colors and grains. Sometimes they’re rotten, falling to pieces. A few times we’ve destroyed the homes of ants and termites. Often, stubborn logs take multiple times to split. Curses fly.

But lots of cursing surround this mistress. That’s because a wood stove demands so much. You must procure decent wood and you must stack it neatly. You have to get on your knees to start it; you have to get back on your knees to clean it. I call it a blood sport: Anyone handling raw wood knows to expect mysterious streams of red to appear.

I don’t like it.

And I don’t like the way not just our winter days but year-long lives are dictated by this queen, this witch, forcing conversations about whether we have enough wood or if it’s covered when it rains, seeping over to friends and neighbors who alert us to piles of wood they’ve seen or trees they’re having cut, making sure we get what’s left. Firewood whores, that’s us.

Sometimes I think I’ve become an accomplice, a wingman, to someone else’s addiction. Because that’s what it is, something that needs feeding, tending, worshipping, even theft if you count taking wood that isn’t legitimately yours.

But.

This wood stove, this thing, was in this house before I was, and fire burned in this man’s heart decades before we met.

And I just have to say, on a cold night when that wood stove is burning, and we’re feasting on pork chops and sweet potatoes we roasted in its coals, and our dogs are happy beside us knowing that soon they’ll be licking our plates to a spotless shine, that wood stove is a very good thing.

Aïda Rogers writes from an old house in Columbia and a new porch in McClellanville. Her three-volume anthology series, State of the Heart: South Carolina Writers on the Places They Love, includes stories by 108 Palmetto State writers.

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