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Fire and I have had a lifelong complicated relationship. Actually, it extends into a past life relationship, but that’s a little too woo-woo for me to get into just now.

Growing up, the fireplace was a focal point in my parent’s house. A cord of wood was dumped in the garage (which was never used as a garage) every year and my dad would stack it and chop it as needed. When it turned cold, we’d stack wood in the basement to avoid having to go outside to get it. Kindling came from the pecan trees, supplemented by newspaper, of which there was no shortage, since my dad took at least six papers. While we had a furnace – a big old scary roaring cast iron thing in the basement – my parents, being depression era children, always kept the house cold, using the fireplace as a major heat source.

We had a fire almost every night from Fall through Spring. Little me learned how to tell if it was smoking into the living room and point that out to my dad. Bigger me learned how to fix it when it was smoking. On cold mornings, I would scrape the ashes looking for some extra warmth from the coals like Cinderella. Scraping through the ashes of the cozy house, even 10 days after the fire, I found warm spots that reminded me of my Cinderella mornings.

E-Bro melted the soles of numerous pairs of shoes reading on the floor in front of the fireplace. One summer morning, when I was very small, my parents tucked him just a tiny bit up the chimney in a Santa Claus costume and surprised me with Santa’s visit. I still remember how thrilled I felt.

The chimney caught fire once and the fire department came to put it out. I was always nervous when we cleaned out the chimney after that. One day, after a night where the fire didn’t draw well, my sixth grade English teacher took me aside and asked me kindly if my home had caught fire because my hair smelled so much like smoke.

In college in Boston, I made the decision to leave as I stood at my window and watched the building across the street from my brownstone dorm go up in violent flames, set alit by an arsonist terrorizing the area. As it burned, I thought, “I am too young for this.”

In college in Boulder, I lived on the top back room of a rooming house that was otherwise occupied by six guys of questionable character in their 30s. One morning, after being awake for 48 hours between work and disasterous midterms, I was finally sleeping when someone pounded on my door. I was charming and cursed at them and told them to go away. This person said, in exactly the tone you would expect, “Well, EXCUSE ME, but your house is on fire and I THOUGHT YOU’D LIKE TO KNOW.” Which it was. I struggled into my red and white striped robe, stumbled barefoot down the stairs past the quickly charring door of the room on fire, just missing the explosion of the front window. Someone gave me a pair of tennis shoes since I was barefoot on this November morning. Turns out one of my fellow tenants went to the Mental Health Center and told them he’d just set his room on fire and there were people sleeping in the house. The Fire Department got the fire under control, though that tenant’s room was completely destroyed. The firefighters had kicked in my unlocked door and checked to be sure the fire hadn’t breached the walls. I didn’t have much, but everything I owned smelled like smoke for weeks. I moved my bed into the empty attic and left my clothes outside in the cold to air them.

After college, still in Boulder, ex-Pat and I watched smoke and ash creep towards our North Boulder apartment over Mt. Sanitas. It was nerve wracking. I went through a small phase of insanity in which I’d chase wildfires when I knew they were burning in the hills. That stopped one day when my truck got stuck and I watched a ridge across from me burn, the fire’s fingers greedily creeping toward me. It was a miracle that I got myself unstuck. I was in the application process to become a wildfire fighter when I broke my foot, dashing that goal.

In the cozy house in Superior, the fireplace took up half of the living room wall. It was romantic at times, comforting at times, frustrating at times. I learned how to build a good fire. I chopped wood without losing any appendages. There was always a fire in the fireplace on Christmas morning, just like we had in my parents’ house. Ironic that the chimney is the only thing left standing. The fireplace felt like the heart of the house.

Living in the Cottage, I watched the Four Mile fire consume familiar hillsides. I watched the Colorado Springs fire on TV in the Bungalow and have never seen anything that more closely resembled what I’d imagine Hell to look like.

Until now. I still can’t visualize what the hell of this fire looked like but I can see the hell it has left behind. The loss and heartbreak that it has created are our own personal little hells.

I worry that the Retreat might be subject to fire. It’s in the woods, in the mountains, almost to be expected. MKL is wise to tell me not to think of it so I don’t draw it to us. But I feel like fire has licked at my heels my whole life. It just hasn’t gotten me yet. I really hope it’s done trying.

February 2022
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