By Cynthia M. Jeffries

Daily Journal

As a firefighter, Tupelo Fire Chief Mike Burns is more than adequate at handling an ax. He’s pretty good with an “X,” too.

The 39-year-old Pearl native enjoys cross-stitching as one of his hobbies. Burns said engulfing himself in needlework can be very relaxing and a good stress reliever from his daily grind.

A collection of his work lines his office wall at Fire Station No. 1 on Jefferson Street. His works include a firefighter’s mascot – a Dalmatian, a horse-drawn fire truck, and an old steam fire engine. Burns plans to frame a recently completed cross-stitch of a town so it too can be added to his wall.

“I think he does a good job. I wish he’d do a couple for me,” said Mark Flanagan, the Tupelo Fire Department’s chief of training. “I think it takes a lot of time and dedication to do one of those things.”

Burns started stitching in 1989 while he was fire chief with the department in the south-central Mississippi town of Pearl. Then, most of his works were what he called “bathroom sayings,” consisting mostly of words. But in the last few years, his work has become more intricate with lots of color changes and more difficult patterns.

Burns said it usually takes him a few months working around his hectic schedule with the department and spending time with his family to finish one of the cross-stitch pieces.

In fact, it was his wife, Debbie, who introduced him to the world of cross-stitching. Burns said he picked up his first piece of aida when his two daughters were small. He decided to see what his wife was so fascinated with. He found out and has been hooked every since.

“Reading can get old after a while,” said Burns, who has been fire chief in Tupelo since November 1993. The former Mississippi Fire Academy instructor replaced Charles Farrah, who retired because of ill health.

Sheryl Rutherford, owner of the Status Thimble, said cross-stitching is becoming more popular with men, though only a small percentage of her customers are male.

“A lot of men are closet stitchers,” Rutherford said. “They will come in with their wives, so you don’t know if they are shopping for themselves or for their wives.”

Like Burns, most men opt for work-related or sports pieces.

Rutherford said there is no shame in the hobby. Some framed pieces can be sold for astonishing price.

And, she said, “It’s cheaper than a psychiatrist at $50 an hour.

“If you can count and make and ‘x,’ you can do this,” Rutherford said.

Cross-stitching is just one of Burns’ hobbies. The grandson of a World War II German firefighter, Burns also enjoys running. He laces up his running shoes four to six times a week, averaging about 35 miles.

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