A fake fireplace brought real happiness
Honestly, does anything scream “Christmas” more than a fake fireplace?
Every year my dad would set up the stepladder in our second floor hallway and go up to the attic, to collect all our Christmas gear – boxes of tree ornaments, the Lionel electric train and the huge collection of little ones. cardboard buildings he’d made.
But, in my opinion, it wasn’t officially Christmas season until he knocked down our red cardboard fireplace and its ersatz burning logs.
Downstairs, we would push the furniture aside and set it up in the living room or “living room” (a less formal place that many homes had in the 1940s and 1950s).
It had to be near an electrical outlet, of course, because you had to plug in the “fire,” which consisted of an orange bulb on the back of the dummy logs.
I don’t see a lot of fireplace pictures today. But long ago, in December, they were everywhere, from cartons of cigarettes to “Saturday Evening Post” illustrations, as if every household had one. Thus, people tended to associate the burning fireplace with happy family reunions and gifts. We couldn’t imagine Christmas without ours, no matter how wrong.
The mantel at the top of the fireplace was too fragile to support anything and the “brick” was getting more and more crumpled and jagged with each passing year. But, hey, once the orange light bulb was glowing, you could imagine you were sitting in the great room of Lord So-and-so’s country mansion while outside the December wind howled across the moors.
We have had a few other family traditions this time of year. My parents bought a View Master projector that projected images from a Christmas record onto the wall, forming a slideshow of the Nativity story. Of course, it was fun to take the bus downtown and see the elaborate party displays in stores, like those with elves busy hammering toys.
But the roaring fireplace was my idea of supreme holiday cheer. I half expected our parents and other visitors to start rubbing their hands in front of the orange bulb and saying things like “Thank goodness you have this roaring fire because I was about to have frostbite ”.
Unfortunately, the cardboard fireplace – metaphorically speaking – caught fire. When we moved from an eight-room house to a five-room apartment only, a drastic slaughter of property known as downsizing was in order.
My stack of first issues of “Mad” magazine is out. All of my post-war baseball cards were sent to landfill. The devastation has been so deep that – from what I’ve read in collectible magazines about the prices such artifacts reach at auction – I probably lost the chance to retire about a decade earlier than I didn’t actually do it.
Of course, the fireplace was the victim of the move. There was no more room to put it away or place it.
With, of course, mental images of jacketed English lords and super happy family scenes worthy of Currier and Ives.
Like any good American, I went on the Internet to find out if fake fireplaces still exist, not having seen them in stores. Yes, they are available and at reasonable prices. But, gods, the first ones I looked at had a cardboard fire. I still can’t think of one that makes you think you’re back in the middle of the century on a frosty night.
Hey, whatever your religion or philosophy, have a great vacation in this dark age. As for me, I will scientifically prepare my post-Christmas good deals. I think the orange bulb will be the hardest to find.
Tom Mooney is a historic Times Leader writer. Reach it at [email protected]