Like most houses in the valley, our house was heated with a potbelly stove. A bucket full of coal always sat nearby. Lumps of black rock. As child my father crawled under ground to dig for this fuel. A task he stuck with for more than half his life. Although he worked the mines for the first six years of my life… keeping us warm, keeping our bellies full…it wasn’t until much later that I became aware of what had happened to the land.

Eventually, the pot-bellied stove would go. Dad built an additional room on the house adjacent to my bedroom. The new furnace room. My mother was joyous when the furnace arrived. There was less of a mess, plus it warmed the house faster and more efficiently. But because the furnace was also fueled with coal, the ash still settled on everything. She nearly washed her fingers to the bone trying to stay one step ahead of that black dust. How our lungs survived I’ll never know.

A table and chairs replaced the stove. Many a game of Rook or Monopoly was played around that table. These games always erupted in gales of laughter. Every time we played my brother won. We could never prove he cheated. Jimmy was smarter than all of us.

After the furnace was installed, my little bedroom window looked directly into the furnace room. No more sightings of cardinals on the plum tree branches. No more purple leaves falling in the autumn wind. No more dreams of riding off into the distance on a crescent moon. No more late-night gazing at the stars.

I never asked my father why he didn’t seal up the window. Those brown, orange and gold plaid curtains remained. They covered the illusion of a window, not unlike the scenery I would eventually design. It was there. It just didn’t give me a view to the world outside anymore.

Decades later, while onstage hanging curtains in a window, a thought came to me. For all those years I had lived next to fire.


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