Mailboxes and Old Barns: The Fire Pit

mailbox, stained glassMailboxes along the roads and old barns set back in fields overgrown with weeds often served as landmarks that told us where we were and how far we had to go in the high dry prairie country of northeastern Montana where I grew up. Sometimes the mailboxes signaled “home” and the end of the road; at other times, barely visible through swirling snow, an old barn told us we had miles to go. When I started compiling word pictures of those times a few years back I realized they were like those mailboxes and old barns–still identifying important places along the road, still signaling where I am and how far I have to go.

There are mailboxes and old barns surrounding us now ...we don’t have to wait twenty years or fifty.

Breathe them in now. Touch them now. Think about them now. Let them encourage now. Talk about them now.

barn, wooden fence

In the comments thread of my first tentative effort (April 6) to resume writing after my husband’s death, texas59 left this thought for all of us

…we are here to continue…on your and our journey past many more Mailboxes and Old Barns.

There’s a broadness to that thought of the “journey past many more Mailboxes and Old Barns” that affirms they are not limited to the past, the present, or the future. MBOBs are not inherently nostalgic – they are also now.

We need present encouragement. Some present sentiment. Some present gentle touches. Some present flashes of courage.

Such things have been all around me throughout the last eight months. Since last October my life’s landscape has been generously littered with MBOBs, and the foundations of these recent MBOBS are as deeply sunk into my life as any from the 1950s or the 1940s. Here’s one.


It had been an unusually cold December. The chill in the air was pretty much ignored because matters of life and death took precedence but every afternoon a roaring fire was invited to do its thing in the fireplace as we pursued profligate consumption of hardwood. Almost all of the people I know have ethanol burning fireplace, but I am old fashioned and can’t seem to get away from the smell of lumber.

mailbox,farmcountryThe Christmas tree was decorated early because a son flew cross-country the first week in December. The decorations stayed up into January because taking them down marked a closing, a right-hand close-parenthesis that was acknowledged with a brief conversation before both the thoughts and the traditional handmade treasures were gently laid aside, never to be enjoyed together again.

The predictable gift of a nightgown for her on Christmas Eve was followed by less predictable gifts for him — gifts suited to the unusually cold December.

Our number two son repeatedly set back under the tree some of the gifts he had prepared. As gift distribution unfolded, he returned them to their hiding place. Now. And again. Finally, at the last, he placed his gifts in our hands and said, “N0w open them slowly because they’re special. And then I’ll explain.”

In addition to the mixed Chihuahua (Thorson – who actually has a good bark – yippers not being allowed at our house) his gift to us was a container of six fine cigars, a box of brandy snifters, and a fifth of some fine brandy.

We learned that we had a date with them on New Year’s Day to enjoy these items around their fire pit.

barn, nostalgiaOur son had researched both the cigars and the brandy, asking about the interwoven relationship between/and best uses of the two, having told the tobacconist his purpose. He had gotten the advice of seasoned experts on how best to introduce neophytes to such an occasion.

It was his desire that our family enter into a deliberate exercise of affection and good fellowship, albeit in a completely unfamiliar context, a shoulder to shoulder type event on New Year’s Day, 2014.

He explained his hope that we could use this occasion to deliberately settle back to bask in one another’s presence, in full contemplation of the issues of life and death. He proposed that we make a deliberate and loving family statement that ...cancer may win this battle but it’s not to going to win the war and we are not going to willingly give it one inch.

What affection.

What serious planning.

What intentional love.

What willingness to risk.

I’m here to tell you he had no way of knowing whether or if Dad and Mom would rise to his loving occasion, neither of us ever having used any alcohol (and didn’t run with those who did) and Dad having smoked for only a few years about half a century ago.

We did rise to the occasion.

So there it was -the first Mailbox/Old Barn of 2014, delivered with love.

barn with windmill

On a cloudy and cool New Year’s Day eight days later, we gathered at his house. In earlier years there would have been snow on the ground – other times and other places, far away.  This time, in an unusually cold Oregon winter, there was no snow but the smoke got in our eyes. A lot.

He instructed those of us who didn’t know (that would be five of the six present) in the business of removing this…leaving that…snipping this…don’t worry about that…here’s what yer gonna do…with an emphasis on….No need to inhale, Mom, so don’t worry about it.

So the cigars are lit all around.

As the evening unfolded Grandma got her cigar going nicely and within moments, realized that there was something to be said for a silently implemented “My ash is longer than your ash…” with the grandson who quietly smiled at his dad’s repeated admonition, “It’s not a competition, young man,” before returning to the lively competition with Grandma. He casually extended his lead, finally making eye contact with her only when her ash (impressive for a neophyte) fell away and she yielded the crown.

When my husband’s cigar got fired up anyone looking on would have thought he was friends with Rush Limbaugh. He made that cigar serve him well and he looked good doing pipeit. We busted up at that, enjoyed it thoroughly, and there was much laughter.

Then son remembered something from forty-years ago or so — that when he was a wee kid Dad had smoked a pipe for awhile, bought at Disneyland of all places. He favored a sweet cherry tobacco of some kind. Our son reminded Dad of those days in some detail and described how he had loved sitting on his Dad’s lap when the pipe was being smoked in the evening. Remembering how he loved the fragrance of those moments.

He provided the simple toast.

“We know why we’re here. And why we are doing this. We are making a statement, together and to one another – and so let’s lift our glasses:

Live like there’s no tomorrow. Dance like nobody’s watching.”

dancing kittens

Sitting for twenty, then thirty, then sixty minutes. Loving one another. Ninety minutes. Seeing the lowering darkness. Laughing. Talking quietly. Acknowledging that just two weeks earlier the oncologist had said six to nine months.

Drawing the quiet comfort of inviolable solidarity around our hearts. Hearts bound together as we eventually sat silent between the darkness behind us and the warm glow before us.

As nearly as I could tell then and looking back now, considering the mix of timidity, formal intention, and amateurs on board – we couldn’t have loved better.

Part of me still can’t believe we actually pulled it off

but the pristine memory

documents the wonderful gift our son gave us

which we then gave to one another

with eyes wide open, paddles in.

Live like there’s no tomorrow and dance like nobody’s watching


 The longest cigar belongs to Dear Granddaughter who preferred doing the camera work.


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16 Responses to Mailboxes and Old Barns: The Fire Pit

  1. Spar Harmon says:

    We humans are never more beautiful than when we love. I will dance here where no one watches. Yes — and there is only Now, now.


    • Menagerie says:

      There is always only now Spar, but it takes a lot to shake us humans up and make us remember that because we really don’t want to face that fear. And I absolutely agree with your first statement too. Made for love, we founder when we stray from He who made us to love.

      Thank you Sharon, for always sharing the journey. And for making us ponder.


  2. texan59 says:

    As a youngster, I had an uncle who was a pipe smoker. I remember sitting in the service station he and my granddad owned, and smelling that wonderful aroma overtake the small front office. My granddad also smoked a pipe before I came along. As the only grandson born on his birthday, I was apparently given undue latitude in playing with said pipes, much to the consternation of my older cousins. Those pipes now hold a prominent space in my living room, along with a few of my uncle’s as well. They not only remind me of days gone by, with much affection, but also make me think of days to come shared with my grandkids. Thanks Sharon.


  3. Cyrano says:

    I’m speechless as I think “This actually happened!” What a daring Idea your son had! He has my admiration for pulling it off, and I can tell from your writing that the family felt the same way. Beautifully written as always, Sharon. Thanks for sharing.


    • Sharon says:

      Isn’t that something, Cyrano? It was something so completely out of our element (and his) but because we knew his heart, we understood the offer….(add)….and benefited by the lavish gift given.

      It’s his 46th b’day today.


  4. justfactsplz says:

    Sharon, often in life the best gifts are the unexpected indulgent ones. I savor every moment now on our new journey and think of yours quite often. For some reason mine took a different turn. However I experience fear, unbelief, then acceptance, and God’s comfort through those months and going forward. Today we are enjoying watching two sand hill cranes visiting our yard eating the seeds the other birds dropped from the feeder. They took a long drink from the bird bath. Simple things like nature and old barns and mailboxes give great joy.

    When I was little I remember my dad smoking pipes. He had a corn cob one and a wooden one. I loved smelling the cherry tobacco. I hated the smell when he lit the occasional cigar.


    • Sharon says:

      Yes, there are unexpected gifts among everyday difficulties and joys. Always!

      I had uncles who smoked cigars – and cigarettes as well. No one in our immediate family ever used tobacco (during the young years – siblings smoked in adult life) – but I remember that all of the ladies (including my mother) had pretty little ash trays they would set out as a normal courtesy for our dinner guests who did smoke.


  5. carterzest says:

    Sharon, this story is beautiful and amazing. I can remember the cherry pipe smells from my Grandfather as well and was allowed to pretend smoke with his pipes. It was great fun until I sucked some of that nasty tar out of the mouthpiece. I could smell and taste that for what seemed like days.
    What a great thing your son did for the family in an extremely difficult and transitional time, amazing in its simplicity, but so special and unexpected. My son turns 8 tomorrow and your son is now the same age as me. Welcome Back, and as always, thanks so much for sharing so much of yourself.


  6. rashomon says:

    You are a gifted writer. So good to have you gracing our Sundays with tales that touch a chord in our memory bank. I’m battling a wascally wabbit, which always reminds me of my pipe/cigar-smoking grandfather’s similar battles. He used to soak tobacco to make a soup he’d sprinkle around his roses and vegetables. Since I don’t smoke, I keep shaking cayenne pepper on all the baby plants and new shoots, but also planted pots of lettuces and carrots for Bugs. Hopefully we can come to a truce.


    • annieoakley says:

      Blood meal sprinkled around, makes them think that something died. And alfalfa pellets away from what you are protecting. Sometimes it works.


      • rashomon says:

        Hey, I’ll take any advice at this point. I’ve never seen such a determined bunny and my friends with mini-farms are really suffering with hoards of them. Coyote urine and other similar products aren’t working for them. One finally got out her son’s pellet gun last night. These critters are huge and fat with very thick coats, so I don’t think the pellets or corn kernels do any physical damage, just sting them. I’ll pass your advice on. Thanks!


  7. Oh, Sharon… all I can say right now is YES. and you nailed it.

    Sunday is my busiest day, and when I come home to this empty apartment, sore and tired, I break down in tears even as I’m shutting the door behind me — I usually hope to read MBOB before that happens, as they all give me such a sense of hope, that there is so much more, and it has become a wonderful antidote of sorts. Today I did that, and didn’t break down, but instead just said “Thank You, God.”


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