I was mesmorized by the flames in the cast iron barrel stove. "Study the fire," our friend Dago urged.
Perched on the cast iron picnic bench, I let myself go into its mind. Primitive. Raw energy. Cleansing. Tall flames licked sticks, then hunkered down, got serious, and had their way with logs. I shuddered to think what they could do to a house, a car, a person. Suffocation or water could stop it, but it would sizzle resistence to its end. Maybe the smoke off it made designs like clouds make shapes. I didn't see what Dago did.
Fire has a purpose. Animals eat ashes for salt and minerals. Ashes and lye make soap. It kept us warm, heated our teakettle on the cookstove, and baked Mom's bread. She knew exactly how many cobs it took to make a perfect angel food cake. My first encounter with fire was when I was a pre-schooler. It was my job to reach into the cob basket and pick out those with kernels of corn left on. Mom lifted the stove lid for me to add cobs one at a time to "feed the fire," she said. All was well until I rested my wrist on the stove. Ouch!!! An inch by 3/4 inch blister shot up. I ran outside to show Daddy, slid face down in the mud, and peeled off my top layer of skin. I have a permanent ID on my left wrist. I learned respect for fire, and I continue to be educated by its blessings and dangers.
Each spring Daddy bought a hundred three-day old chicks and brought them home to the brooder house. Mom caught one and held it to my ear. Its cottony coat tickled me, and the chick talked to me, "Peep." Everyday I wanted to play with them. It wasn't long until they sprouted feathers and we couldn't catch them. One cold morning, Daddy looked out and saw too much smoke rising from the brooder house. He ran out to save them. Mom and I watched him carry the circular stove out and drop it in the snow. He came in breathless. No chicks died, but, the front fell off of his new leather jacket.
District #70 had a program every month. When I was nine, I broke my leg the first week of school and couldn't be in the program. Miss Anderson put a paper napkin bow in my hair, a candle in my hand, and stood me beside the piano. All went well until I turned my head and the napkin caught fire. Mom jumped out of the audience, ran to me, pulled the fire off my head and stomped it out. I was stunned but not hurt. She said when she saw me with the candle, she never took her eyes off me. Thank God!
The most disturbing fire was the one in our upstairs bedroom. Registers were opened to allow for heat rising off the oil stove. When our parents decided it wasn't enough, Daddy lit the fuel oil stove in our bedroom. It might not have bothered me, if I hadn't been able to see the flame through the glass on the front. I couldn't sleep. I was paralyzed. Somewhere in the deep recesses of my soul, I knew I'd been burned alive. A nightmare? My imagination? Or was it another time? another place? Wherever it came from, it is my mother of all fears.
2013 Red Convertible Travel Series