Saturday, March 30, 2024

Your House is on Fire!


Last Saturday night an ice storm knocked out our electricity, along with the water and the heat. For the next 24 hours, my husband and listened to my little transistor radio, eating peanut butter sandwiches and canned sardines. We huddled in front of the fireplace and in fact, we spent all day Sunday keeping warm in front of the fire.


By five o’clock, the power came back on. We were so grateful—you would have thought that we had been lost in the wilderness for many weeks, cooking on a camp fire, dining on tree bark and berries, entertaining ourselves without television, as if we were brave pioneers.

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Flash forward to Sunday night at 8:30 p.m.—we are sitting curled up on the couch in front of the television, belly-full of my husband’s chicken stew. Two Americans watching The Americans on Hulu.

And in the middle of this blissful scenario, there is sudden loud banging on the window and then a man's voice, yelling:


Your house is on fire! Get out! Get out!


And again—


Your house is on fire! Get out!


For a moment, The Americans on Hulu and the Americans on the couch do a strange little dance in my head. How could our house be on fire? That makes no sense. That’s something you’d see on television. I look out the window. And yes, indeed--our house is on fire.


I run into the living room, bracing for the worst. But, there is no fire in the fire place—aside from the dying embers. There is a little smoke in the air, but nothing to prepare me for the sight outside our house--which is definitely on fire.


Still, my brain does not to fully engage. Or maybe it does engage, but in a way that protects me from having a heart attack. I take a deep breath, and my brain and body slowly separate. My brain parks itself on the side of the house that is calling 911 and my body is over there—grabbing my novel—okay, yes. Don’t judge me! I chase after our orange tabby cat—Mister Pickles and wrestle him, but I cannot manage to get him into his cat carrier. He is clawing and scratching me and then he runs upstairs. I run up after him, but he escapes.


In the meantime, my husband is yelling, Jamie! Get out of the house! Get out of the house!


I am outside in the cold. Snow on the ground. I am wearing leggings and a thin top and a pair of slippers. I think about running back inside, but the fire is blazing on the side of the house—the side of the house with the chimney. The wife of the man who banged on our window explains how they just happened to be driving by and they saw the fire. He has eyes like a hawk, she says. They are throwing snow—with their bare hands--onto the fire. Flames are inching up the wooden exterior. 


Sirens. Sirens. And more sirens. All at once, like a synchronized Broadway extravaganza with flashing lights—hunky firefighters emerge from a dozen fire trucks—from the Valatie Fire Department, the Niverville Fire Department, the Kinderhook Fire Department and the Chatham Fire Department. Eighteen firefighters go into action.


They tell us to step back while they hack away at the side of our house. A bunch of firefighters go inside the house, looking for the source of the flames, checking the entire length of the chimney, and the attic and the crawl spaces.


In the meantime, I circle around to the other side of the house to go inside and get my coat and boots, but a firefighter cuts me off at the pass. He tell me that he’ll go inside. However, the door is locked. And it’s cold. I’m shivering and then the firefightera young man named Daniel (I think)--he takes me by the arm, leads me down the steps and through the snow and says I should stay warm in his truck. He’s so kind and I am suddenly Blanche DuBois, telling him I’ve always depended on the kindness of strangers. I am disassociating once again. I am the lady in distress. My house is on fire. Save me, please.


I sit in the warmth of the truck. After a while, another firefighter comes up to the truck and asks me, do you have a place to stay tonight?


No. Can I stay at your house? I don’t really ask this. I just stare at him.


Then another firefighter comes to the door and says, do you recognize me? In this movie, I am Sandra Bullock. We’re playing a scene either at plot point one of this movie or the climactic moment. I’m not sure. Maybe it’s the midpoint crisis. 


No, I don’t think I recognize you, I say. He smiles, Well, that’s because of uniform, he explains. I’m your plumber!


Oh yes, I say. I know you.


He’s a volunteer firefighter. This is small town life. And, if I weren’t already married to the most wonderful man in the world, (who can also make one heck of great chicken stew) I do think I would ask our plumber to marry me. That is, if I could only remember his name.


Karin, chief fire person—actually, that’s not her title. She’s in charge of some important decision-making—and she comes over to me with the Fire Inspector. And together, they declare that we can stay in our house tonight. It is safe and inhabitable.


Creative Friends—your assignment for this week is to look around your home—however humble it may be--and be grateful. Be grateful for your good Samaritan neighbors and especially be grateful for your local Firefighters.


Thank you to The Valatie Fire Department, The Niverville Fire Department, The Chatham Fire Department and the Kinderhook Fire Department.

Thank you!



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