A house down the street from us caught fire last night.
We had seen an ambulence go by, but I didn’t think much of it until I walked outside to return a movie. Housefire smoke has a specific smell- just as campfires do. It’s the burning of things that aren’t supposed to be burned- not just dangerous chemicals and plastics and vinyl, but also of things that are loved and cherished. Posessions. A charred dwelling, a place that is a person’s highest sanctuary, security and comfort is both disorienting and frusterating to the highest degrees when destroyed, or badly damaged.
My house burned down when I was in the first grade. My family had been living there for about a year. A short time for my mother, brother and I, but my father had grown up in that house. My grandparents had both recently passed away and we had up-rooted form Australia to take up residence.
It was winter. It was also the last day of school before Christmas break. It was also a Friday, and a home High School basketball game was on. Being from the tiny town that I am, the Fire Department is made up of volunteers- who also happened to be at that evening’s event.
I remeber sitting on my sister’s lap, having been passed-off by my parents. My older brother was competing in that evening’s match- and would go on to be part of the 1-A state championship team a few years later. Over the PA came a page: “Would all volunteer fire fighters please report to the stage.”
Here my memory lapses- I was 6. I remember standing in front of our burning house. The snow that had fallen had been melted in a radius from the heat of the fire- as was the paint of my brother’s 70-something Toyota Corolla. I was not old enough to comprehend what this meant for the familiy. In an evening we were displaced. It is an interesting phenomonon to know that you are unable to go home. That your home no longer exists. The mind of child Sarah did not realize this. My 6 year-old self was very upset with the loss of her paint-by-number that she had recieved from the gift exchange that afternoon. Even if a fire doesn’t touch anything, smoke can do just as much damage.
Only later in life am I pining over the mementos and family history that was destroyed that day: family photos, antique furniture, quilts, and memories. Then I remind myself that I am thankful for the things I DO have- family, friends and a home of my own.