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The one constant: Cast iron stove in the corner

He does nothing but consume our resources and sit in the corner and smoke. But he's warm and friendly and kind of interesting, so we let him stick around.

No, it's not an older brother I'm describing, but our family's wood stove. 2009 has been a year of chaos and change for our family. Our house has been remodeled beyond recognition. Some family members have switched bedrooms while others have had their bedrooms taken from them entirely and converted into bathrooms.

My grandma moved in with us.

I finally got my driver's license, and subsequently crashed my car. Everyone's a year older. This wood stove -- with its complicated Seussian chimney and mysterious engraving of women harvesting wheat on the sides -- has remained one of the only unchanging aspect of our lives, a stable constant.

I'm not one to dwell on the past, but it is important to at least remember that there ever was one. The cast iron wood stove is a grandfatherly figure reminding us that it hasn't always been this crazy, nor will it always be. The stove has watched generations come and go, and our house change -- in more remodeling projects than anyone cares to count -- from a lake cabin to a comfortable home.

It was around when baby Nathan first arrived through the front door with his proud parents, and watched him grow into a teenager that is now taller than his dad. It stoically watched the timely end to the life of a former resident, whose ghost would one day reemerge to befriend me in my early childhood.

The wood stove -- though it itself not alive -- has seen enough over the years to know a few things about life. It knows that people are only independent when it's warm and sunny. But when the sky darkens and the snow blows, everyone appreciates the warmth and reassurance of a friend.

It knows, from watching backyard activity from the living room window that life is just a tire swing hanging from a frayed rope -- swinging in wild patterns and liable to break loose and roll down the driveway at any moment. It knows what happens when the men in the cherry picker take the tree down -- to make room for the expanding house -- that held the tire swing up in the first place.

Besides faithfully warming and comforting generations of cold people over the years, the old wood stove has served as a unifying force for our family, to an even greater extent than the TV. People in my family don't generally like to spend too much time in the living room -- it's the place of no privacy, where you get glared at for playing the guitar and your parents always end up asking you something about your personal life.

But the stove has a subtle, yet effective, way of drawing everyone in the house from their dimly-lit bedrooms and closets of isolation and into the light. On a cold winter's night the living room is the heart of our home, the place where the people congregate and the warmth of the stove is felt most intensely.

So, for a few short days this Christmas, forget your pride and let the comfort and hospitality of the season warm you. Don't go trying to prove that you can make it alone in the cold world out there -- we all know you can. Don't hide in the closet. Spend some time with cherished loved ones around a wood stove or fireplace.

And perhaps if you share a tidbit about your personal life with your parents, they'll let you bring out your guitar.

Nathan Kitzmann is a junior at Detroit Lakes High School.