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My good and generous wife has taught me many things, not the least of which is how to be more compassionate toward others. While I’m still a work-in-progress, caring oozes from her. If anyone has the gift of spiritual hospitality, she’s one.

But two eminently practical things my West Virginia flower taught me stand above all others: how to build a fire and how to handle wrapping tape.

Now perhaps you don’t think these skills are anything to write home about. But not me. I know these practical proficiencies make life immensely more livable and for years they’ve saved me time and preserved the thimble of sanity God gave me.

Building a Fire: You’d think that anyone with a brain could build a fire. I mean the capacity to do so is one of the attributes scientists tell us distinguishes man from beast. Yet I reached the legal age of 21 without really knowing how to build a fire from scratch.

I could light fires with a match in the trash drum in the back yard, an experience now almost gone from urban life. I could strike matches all day long. But I didn’t know how to build a wood fire in a fireplace because I grew up in a house that didn’t have a fireplace. Only the well-to-do in mansions or the homeless under the bridge had fireplaces in my town. So when we arrived at our cabin in the woods to begin our honeymoon at Babcock State Park, my fire building trouble was nigh.

It was August 12, 1974. Nixon was three days out and Ford was three days in the presidency. We were living the second full day of our marriage. We walked into this beautiful log cabin built by the Civilian Conservation Corp in 1937, complete with fireplace. Fantastic, so much so we came back for summer vacation, kids in tow, for the next thirteen years. But back to the story.

Later that evening—it’s our honeymoon, remember—we decide flaming logs might be romantic, so in my macho glory I build a fire. Actually, I piled huge chunks of wood in the fireplace, doused them thoroughly with kerosene, and tossed in a match. Sometimes this method eventually created a real fire, usually it didn’t. Either way, it created an overpowering kerosene stink in the cabin. This episode repeated itself until my new honey, with sinus issues to begin with, said, “Enough”—or more new-wifey words that meant the same thing.

Sarah built a fire as I watched in nonplussed amazement. She started with little wads of paper, piled small sticks than larger sticks, built a teepee of smaller pieces of wood around the core, and finally stepped back to survey her handiwork. After a sigh that said, “I’ve got this, Bub,” she struck a match at the bottom and watched with no small satisfaction as the teepee burst into a real live ongoing fire. After a few moments when she graciously (remember, she’s compassionate toward the needy, which in this case was clearly me) did not gloat, she gradually layered larger pieces of wood on the now raging fire.

Wow, what a woman. To this day, I make fires properly, ones that do homage to a pretty young bride.

Handling Wrapping Tape: On several occasions I’ve tangled myself in wide-band wrapping tape while failing to get a single strip of tape affixed to the box in front of me. The tape always seemed to double-up on itself, thus making it impossible to apply. Either that or it stuck vigorously to my skin, taking with it decades of hairy growth when I pulled it off.

I was ready to pitch the tape roll and concede that some tasks were beyond my mental and physical dexterity. But then Sarah interrupted my mania with adult insight.

She said, “Stick the roll of tape to something like the edge of your desk while you work with the cut piece. Then the main roll won’t turn back on itself. When you’re finished bend the end of the tape back so it sticks to itself, thus preventing it from adhering again to the roll and making it nearly impossible next go round to pull up the end.”

Her technique worked scary well and has ever since. It took the “dys” out of my dysfunctional wrapping tape machinations and made me once again a productive member of society. Who knew common sense could be so sensible?

God knew what he was talking about when he looked at Adam and said, “It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a helper suitable for him” (Gen. 2:18).

Without my helper I would have by now either frozen to death trying to make a fire or mummified myself in wrapping tape.


© Rex M. Rogers – All Rights Reserved, 2010

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