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Hope burns eternal

By PATTY RYAN, Times Staff Writer

© St. Petersburg Times, published December 13, 2002

I ONCE PAID $1,000 to fix the fireplace, a sum that covered bricks and mortar, a new damper and a chimney cap.

Festively, I stacked a half-cord of firewood in the garage, a free-standing outpost swallowed by philodendra and inhabited by creatures I often hear but rarely see.

In the bitter Palma Ceia winter that followed, the cost worked out to $333 per blaze, which, of course, explains the bitterness.

FOUR YEARS later, I am still burning the same half-cord.

At some point, the wood pile went condo. Bugs moved in, followed by larger creatures. The other day, I noticed swatches of fabric stuffed amid the logs.

Soon, I suspect, I will find miniature satellite TV dishes and empty Velveeta packages. The creatures will form a steering committee and demand cat control.

YES, even rodents mock my investment, now in the neighborhood of a bargain-basement $50 per fire.

Do they not see the poetry of using a matchstick to light kindling beside the Christmas tree in a wood-frame house beneath a giant oak?

My name is Patty R. and I am a pyromaniac. I light fires, though not as often as I would like.

COME, COME winter. Stop teasing us.

I must lower the air conditioning so that the Christmas tree doesn't feel uncomfortable. And I watch the wood pile, wondering how many more years remain.

I suppose, to be prudent, I should include the wood in my will, in the event it outlasts me.

Surely that happens in some Tampa families. Wood passes from one generation to the next. Men in flannel shirts call their sons outside. "You see this log, boy? Your great-great-grandfather cut it. Feel that grain."

LAST SATURDAY, heartened by a cold snap, I invaded the shed. I stood on the doorstep of the rodents, determined to disrupt the occupation.

One by one, logs came off the pile and entered the federal fire log relocation program, a huge, plastic tub near the light of the doorway. Bugs scurried across the concrete, returning to the shrinking mother lode.

AFTER A WHILE, I stopped to inspect what remained, wondering when I would tap into the scary part.

Perhaps I was silent too long, for while I watched, out crept a black rat, perhaps the size of a hot dog bun. He sidled up to a piece of wood and looked up at me, creator of the earthquake, before stealing back into the pile.

He was actually kind of cute.

He, I assumed, though perhaps she. What if they? What if there were children? I could not evict them over the holidays.

I looked at the plastic tub, by then brimming over.

Thankfully, the rest of it could wait till next year, or perhaps the year after that.

-- Tampa's Kennedy Boulevard was once called Grand Central. Now Grand Central is a weekly City Times column. Writer Patty Ryan can be reached at 226-3382 or .

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