Chestnuts Bursting on an Open Fire (Joy in the Simple Things)

Tips for missionaries (and people everywhere).

The fire didn’t heat better out of the fireplace. All it really did was create more smoke! Though no one would ever convince the dear, stubborn, old man of that! Yet we fondly remember those simple evenings of reading by the fire in my father-in-law’s home as some of the most cozy and delightful evenings of our lives, even with the choking smoke and burning eyes!

Those days of the early 1990s in that rural Italian village mostly untouched by time were slow and simple. With little entertainment: no cinema or shopping center, no bowling alley or spa. Papà didn’t even have a phone or TV, and it was before PCs and mobile phones were common. 

Old photo of my father-in-law near his fireplace

So there wasn’t much to do. Only men went to the coffee bars, to argue over card games, puffing on ever-present cigarettes, glasses of beer or brandy in hand. Us women? We had the mini (and I mean mini) supermarket, the butcher shop, and the tiny, outdoor market once a week. We were supposed to stay home to cook and clean, anyway!

The joy of simple things

Those were lean years for our family – with little money, no washing machine, and no car. A common description of life for many missionary families.

But I’m glad we went through them for they taught us the importance of learning to make the most of little things and find joy in them.

We couldn’t afford “entertainment” anyway, so we made our own free entertainment! Like my first attempt at roasting chestnuts!

Now I ask you – have you ever thought of chestnuts as good, free entertainment? Well neither had I, until I blew my father-in-law right off his chair with them!

Just in case you’ve never roasted chestnuts let me explain how it’s done – at least according to my husband. “Just throw them in the fire,” he said. So I did. But he forgot the important little detail of slicing their skin first!

So remember this small step! Your family will thank you, along with your father-in-law. And even the dog. or whoever else is in the room! Because otherwise they explode, shooting around the room like piping hot missiles. Like corn popping, if you’re silly enough to take the lid off the pan!

Poor Papà, calmly enjoying his after dinner smoke. The unexpected explosions sent him reeling backward from his chair, staggering and sputtering! He was in his 70’s at the time. And looking back, I’m so grateful he didn’t fall or have a heart attack!

And that he was more patient than his gruff exterior led one to believe. Because he didn’t get angry at this dumb daughter-in-law. But then, he had always loved me, right from the start. I loved his son, and that was enough for him.

Hubby, however, was another matter… “Why didn’t you slice them open first?” he asked in irritation. “Because you didn’t tell me to!” I shot back. “All you said was just throw them in! So I did!”

But I wasn’t really paying him much mind right then. I was watching Papà. He had a bad habit of muttering under his breath. He’d puff on his cigarette, then mumble curses to himself. Take another puff, and mutter some more. Until he worked up enough steam to spout off about whatever was bothering him. 

It was rather like watching a volcano preparing to explode. And right then a lot of furious puffing and ominous muttering was going on! Oh, what had I done?

And then he cut our argument short with a deep belly laugh, and kept at it for some time. Chuckling and shaking his head, wondering I’m sure, if his dumb American daughter-in-law knew how to do anything at all!

The Value of Simple Things

That time reminds me that it doesn’t take much to have fun. And in fact, that sometimes the fun can even come out of having little!

True, we had no car – but even that created special adventures. Like the entertaining bus and train trips that our kids still remember. And long family walks with plenty of time for conversation, song, and silliness.

Little money – but we also had few bills, little commercial pressure, and no electronic distractions.

Yet often when the budget is tight, it’s easy to start feeling we’re missing out. We forget to be grateful and we start wishing for more.

But by searching for joy in the simple things, we start to see how many of the things that really matter we already have. And with that comes a great freedom.

6 things simplicity can free us to do:

  1. Appreciate all that has true and lasting value.
  2. Use our time and money wisely so that we can focus on our ministry.
  3. Teach our family the wisdom of not chasing after mere stuff.
  4. Cultivate true and lasting contentment.
  5. Make do with what we have, even if it’s very little.
  6. Value making memories more than accumulating possessions and money.

We had little, but we were happy. Family togetherness, no commercial stress, no electronic distractions. We learned the joy of making our own fun, with no need of outside stimulus. (Which the interesting townsfolk provided free of charge anyway!)

These days, such simple pleasures probably seem hopelessly boring. But they created rich memories for us. Treasures that are still meaningful and special, even after so many years.

Stuff comes and goes. But memories can bring pleasure for a lifetime, even those as simple as bursting chestnuts. Which were so delicious – once we gathered them from every corner of the room!

Images: Stockinged feet by s-wloczyk2 | Popcorn Jill Wellington Others ©SignoraSheila.

6 replies on “Chestnuts Bursting on an Open Fire (Joy in the Simple Things)”

I love this story and the truth you presented with it. We can look all around us today and see that having plenty does not mean one has joy and peace. I long more and more for simplicity. Your words bring it home. Thank you!


Thank you Patty! You’re so right, plenty does not necessarily mean peace, joy or happiness. A lot depends on our attitude. And when we can learn, along with the apostle Paul to be content with little or with much – just because we have Christ – then they come! And sometimes less really can mean more!

Liked by 1 person

Sheila, The first and last time I put chestnuts in our oven was in Dardago, Italy. I did not know about slitting the chestnuts. Pretty soon, explosions erupted in that bombola-powered stove. Our landlord visited us and learned what I had done. He smiled and took the remaining chestnuts with him. The next day, he brought delicious roasted chestnuts back to us. It’s all in knowing the simple things :). Happy New Year!


Thank you, Sheila, for your voice of experience affirming the joy of simple things. I’m thinking there is more joy to be had in the simple life than the life of plenty. (We’ve all known poor rich folk who “have it all” except happiness!)

Liked by 1 person

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