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Tag Archives: fire

found poem: mercury

found poem: writing

found poem: SUCH HEAT

found poem: so worried

found poem: morning

out of bright…

For the 19

out…

the ideal…

headline memories…

Elsie before she was my grandmotherThe news crackles with stories of fire, pushes on memories that are still tender after all these decades: the Bel Air fire.

Here’s what I remember: A line of flame contoured the ridge top, which was perhaps a mile and a half away. I looked out the kitchen window again and again, sat on the front step watching the smoke billow up from the north and west. The sun was a red ball in the sky. My father met with the neighbors and established an overnight watch.

The next day, there were whispers among my junior high classmates. Parents arrived, anxious, milled in the hall, grabbed their kids and drove away without explanation.

School closed early and we were all sent home. On the carpool ride, the car was filled with a kind of muffled confusion. I got home at the same time as my father, who had left work early. My mother wasn’t there; she had taken her mother, my beloved (and only) grandmother, Elsie, to the hospital for gall bladder surgery.

The house was in disarray, things missing. We had been robbed. No, not robbed, we finally realized — what thief would take the hamster, the little bronzed ducks I had made from clay as a child? Dorothy, frantic about her mother, about the fire, had rifled the house for the irreplaceable — my father’s birth certificate, a favorite painting, little Sam in his wire cage — put everything in her car and driven off without leaving a note.

We were lucky. The fire never got much closer. But friends weren’t, their homes consumed while they were in school, at work, in Mexico. Coming home to singed ground, chimneys stark as gravestones, their lives changed instantly, profoundly.

Elsie never came out of the hospital. The confusion and impossibility of her death are forever entwined with the chaos and grief surrounding the fire, and, in the unsteady echo and ooze of memory, the assassination of John F. Kennedy, almost exactly two years later.

memory…

firs in fog

Fog turns the trees into suggestions of themselves, faint and faded. In the still-dark of winter morning, a dampening of sound and shape and distance. Opening the blinds, I hope to see the doe and her large fawn who visited yesterday, browsing through the side garden, but see only the blurred fan of the streetlights, the dark pole, the rough silhouettes of shrubs.

Another blur: the memory of a large bandage on my father’s arm. I am perhaps three or four years old. My mother is deep-frying something at the stove when the oil catches fire. My father grabs a scrap of carpeting from the floor and throws it on top of the pan, smothering the fire. Then he picks up the pan, with its carpeting cover, and carries it over to the sink. But instead of leaving it to cool, he pulls off the carpet, and the flames, gulping the air, leap up his arm and burn him badly.

I don’t remember what happened next – whether they called the fire department or drove to the hospital. But after that my father had a big wrapping on his arm, which later became a lifelong scar. And in my mother’s telling of the story, my father’s unblemished heroism had a moral, and we had a new rule: we do not deep-fry.

And we never did again, and I never have, to this day.

Photo by Glynn Wilson

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