I was 5 when my father first walked me into my childhood home, then empty but for a russet urn standing 3 feet tall beside the hearth in the living room. Adorned with gilded dragons, it had been a first love of sorts, a fairy tale presence in the place that made my home a castle and me, a princess. I spent pensive childhood hours examining the details of the dragons, imagining their histories, touching meticulously the gold – it was gold – that highlighted their scales, wings, tails, and pointed snouts.
As a teen, my focus shifted to the hearth itself; wood burning into golden dragon tails that lashed up the chimney toward ancient places beyond my home. I followed up and out and longed to live in the worlds I envisioned there. The time did come to leave.
Christmas of 1982 found me, young for my young age, a princess with no rightful kingdom, in my first, second-floor flat with a loving new husband – a good man – but missing my childhood home. I had no hearth to dream into, no dragons looking on or guiding me away. I had spent my final teen year planning a wedding and a fairy tale beyond it but had landed in a place so real it was unfamiliar, so mundane, so final. I was in shock.
My sweet husband was at a loss to help me or even, I’m sure, to understand where I’d gone. I didn’t know, myself. But somehow he understood that I needed a hearth; I needed a warm, well-guarded place for dreams and imaginings beyond.
So he built me one: a cardboard box hearth with sides wrapped in brick-patterned paper. It had real wood in it, and red ribbons of fire flying up an imagined chimney built into the brick of our living room wall. As it was Christmas, he topped the mantle with my tiny wooden rocking chair, a tinier Santa seated there, and beside them a favourite childhood Christmas book. With stockings hung at the sides and candy canes on the front, this was the sanctuary I sought.
And there, in the bottom left corner of this hearth, he placed a tiny, gold, long-tailed fox, its dragon-like nose, flickering tail, and resolute disposition all reminders that I was protected by some serious backup.
My dreams at that hearth brought me, decades later, to a place of lasting love for the person who had built it, and to an understanding that I had been deeply loved. They brought me, also – and much sooner – to the one place I had always known I would surely land: our son was conceived the following year, a constant flame of hope in a too-difficult time of transition, and in all the years that have followed.
However long ago, however dim the memory, there is no stretch of elastic time that cannot snap back to what will always be, for once having been. No anger, no flaw, no fear or wish on anyone’s part can annul, or supplant, or diminish a first deep love, a first winter – however cold and frightening, at times – or a firstborn.
Looking now into the flames of my real, wood-burning hearth, following the golden tails of dragons up and out to my own ancient past, I am saddened, somewhat, so thoughtlessly to have worn away the gilded eyes of those earliest champions. But what redemption there is that a tiny, toy, and long-tailed fox sat, gleaming, by the gift of a home-made hearth silently to bear witness to it all.
copyright gossamer universe 2017