The sheets of glass would come to our stained glass studio, which was also our home, in 500 pound oak crates. We would get shipments every few months. They sometimes came from the importer in New York. Sometimes they would come straight from Germany where most of it was made. Cheaper sheets of stained glass were available but those were made by squeezing the hot glass through large, industrial rollers which would imprint the rough texture of the rollers onto the glass. It was not very transparent or pretty. The glass in these crates, by contrast, were made by hand, where a craftsman would pick up a glob of molten, called a gather, on the end of a hollow steel pipe, put his or her lips on the other end and blow it into a large bubble. That bubble would be carefully cut open and laid out flat, turning it into two foot by three foot sheet of glass that we would cut into the shapes that would make up the design destine for a particular church. By using glass made in this labor intensive way, the windows would be more clear and have a shimmery quality, bringing some of the outside in.
The empty oak crates would build up. When they reached a point where something had to be done, dad would pile them high, add an ample amount of gasoline and strike a match. He liked a good bonfire. He also loved to test just how far he could push the boundary between ordinary activity and something truly exciting. I was always enlisted to be his little helper in such tests of manly courage, which I usually enjoyed, but often I wished that we would have dialed it back quite a bit. Our father could not be deterred. Even though we were surrounded by woods, occasionally someone was not as delighted with the excitement as we were and would call the fire department. This would result in a wee bit of trouble, including a fine. As the crow flies, the fire department was close enough that we could hear the siren whenever they went out on a call but by road, in order to connect them to us, one has to drive quite a ways around and come in from the other direction. Now this presented a quandary. When the fire was at a size that seemed to bring dad pleasure, the distant sound of the alarm would bring a chill to my spine. Is it a call for some ordinary calamity around town or are we the target of such an unwelcome ruckus? We would turn our heads this way and that, much like a dog, trying to follow the path of the truck that was making all the noise. We got pretty good at it. If we were the target, the siren would get fainter and fainter, then make a turn to the left for a while and then start getting louder again. This was when the dread started to sink in. We would start to scramble and try to douse the fire but that was usually futile. Sometimes they wouldn’t know which long drive to come up and we could hear their backup horn. This only drove home the point that they were coming to visit us. Luckily, enough years would go by between these visits that people would be new or would forget.
One fall afternoon, when we were having a relatively ordinary fire, the wind picked up and lit the surrounding woods on fire. “This is bad” we exclaimed. It was all-hands-on-deck. The whole family rushed out to help. It was nip-and-tuck at first. It’s funny that calling the fire department never entered anyone’s mind. Our mother, who approved of this whole affair about as much as the mother in the movie “Christmas Story” approved of the leg lamp, was out there beating the burning brown oak leaves with her stringy dust mop. This seemed like a good idea at first, until I looked over to see my mom vigorously beating the ground with a flaming dust mop. I yelled over “mom, your mop’s on fire, I’m not sure it’s helping”. Mom was a doer though, so she kept at it. Eventually, we got ahead of it and put it out with no serious harm done. Mom replaced the mop head, but the lower half of our wooden handled mop remained chard from then on.