Later I ventured out onto the grate in my bare feet. Quickly, I came to realize the painful sensation of a burn. Despite my parents’ warning about hot, I suppose I needed to find out for myself. Some time later, I began to incorporate hot into my vocabulary. At the dinner table I wanted to put mustard on my hot dog. My mother would not permit this. She explained that mustard was too hot for children. I immediately reached for the jar of mustard, got down from the table and placed in on the grate. The adults laughed but it did not bother me since I knew where hot things were to be placed. Since the grate never burned or melted. I felt the jar of mustard was safe there.
Next to our house was my dad’s shop. He was a builder of wooden boats. Since there was much scrap wood from the boats and fire logs were readily available he heated his shop with a large upright wood stove. I was small but the top of the stove was higher than me. On cold days, upon entering the shop, it was customary to remove your scarf, gloves and hat and hang them near the stove, so they would dry out and be warm when you had to leave. Since I was never in the shop but for brief periods, I do not remember removing my outer clothes and hanging them up. Instead I would crowd near the stove all bundled up and warm the only exposed part of my body—my face. Once I stood too near the stove and my wool scarf badly singed. Singed hair or fur has a remarkable acrid pungent smell that still tinges my olfactory memory.
Before we moved to Florida when I was six, fire was almost a constant in my life. Not only did it provide heat in the winter as evidenced by the flickering glow in the furnace window or the smell of smoke and the sight of the blast when the wood stove door was opened. There were also the sparks and smells emanating from outdoor grills and campfires, most notably on the summer holidays when it seemed everyone was doing their living outdoors. It seemed too that many adults would make a fire on a small stick and use it to light tobacco, either in rolled form or in pipes. Once lit they proceeded to breathe in the smoke and appeared to gain much satisfaction, before releasing their breath that still contained a small trace of the wispy vapor. In Florida, fire was no longer the primary source of heat, but began to take on other meaning.