<< back | next >>


Today was the first boring day of the week. I'm cool with that.


I'm bummed because our real Christmas tree will remain in the carport until the restoration crews can finish their work next week.


Lynard Skynard:
"Free Bird."


Chocolate chip cookie dough ice cream.


I need some sleep.


No entry.

I never planned on that phone call

thursday, december13th

home  |  bio  |  masthead  |  quotes  |  morgue  |  speak up  |  livejournal

Quote Du Jour:
"The house is on fire!!" - (Mom)

I scanned in some photos from a weekend incident I worked with the fire department shortly before the student publications advisor walked into the office Monday afternoon. The photos on the screen caught her attention and it didn't take long for our conversation to turn to my love for firefighting.

As she has done many times previously, she asked me why I enjoy working for the fire department. I replied with a few of my standard responses to the question. The included: "When you have a problem that no one else can solve, who do you call? The fire department."

My cell phone rang and the conversation ended. My free minutes for the month had long since expired, so I checked out caller ID to see if I should answer it or not. It was my mom calling. I answered.

ME: "Hello?"
HER: "Fletch, the house is on fire!!"

Fire -- in my house, at least -- is something I've always worried about a great deal. We had a fire in another house of mine 21 years ago and that experience stuck with me. I think that for the better part of the last two decades, I've been waiting for it to happen again. In my mind, I'd heard the radio page for a fire at my address. In my mind, I had imagined what could be replaced easily and what carried sentimental value. I had played out scenarios in my mind on what I'd do -- how to get out & what to save. Of course, I never planned on that phone call. I never rehearsed in my head what I would say or what I could do when I was 90 miles away.

ME: "What!?! Get the fire extinguisher!"
HER: "But I don't know where the fire is!"

I guess that, at first, I thought we were talking about a cooking incident gone wrong or something related. I thought that there were flames right there in front of her and she was looking for tips or something. It seems that when she opened the back door after coming home from work, she was greeted by heavy smoke conditions. The declaration that she didn't know where the fire was sent me into worst case scenario mode.

HER: "They aren't here yet. I called them three minutes ago."
ME: "Don't worry. They are on their way. (Change of attitude) Call them back and tell them that it's (my radio number)'s house."
HER: "They said they were on their way."

With my mind on the worst possible outcome, I felt very helpless sitting at school. Okay, so I wasn't sitting. I know I raised an eyebrow or two as I ran from the newspaper office, down a hall and outside, through a classroom building and to my truck -- speaking urgently on the cell phone the entire time. The first person I called was Jessie.

ME: "Where are you?"
HER: "At my parents house, why?"
ME: "My house is on fire. Go be with my mother."
HER: "What? Really? Okay, I'm gone."

I climbed in the truck and headed to my dorm to pick up a set of clothes. I called Little Brother (who also goes to the same school) on the way.

ME: "The house is on fire."
HIM: "What house?"
ME: "Our house. I'm on my way to
Smallville. What do you want to do? Are you going with me?"

I ran into my room, grabbed a bag that was still packed from a trip the night before and headed out before my roommate had a chance to say hello. I met Little Brother in the parking lot and we headed out separately in our own vehicles.

Oakdale certainly isn't a metroplex, but 100,000 or so folks trying to get home from work will slow a guy down. Regardless, Little Brother and I did our best to haul ass. As we weaved between lanes of traffic, I tried calling my mother back. She'd called me from the house (on our cordless phone, I presumed), so I dialed that number. The fire chief answered.

ME: "What do you have, chief?"
HIM: "You're house is full of smoke. We just got here and haven't found anything yet. You're mom will call you back when we know something."

I called Jessie again. I wanted to know how close she was. I wanted to know what she could see. And when she finally arrived at my house, I called for constant updates on the situation. Finally, about ten minutes into our trip, Jessie called to say that the cause had been found.

To compensate for their lack of use on the previous two Sundays, my mother had lit two of the candles on our advent wreath that morning. She became distracted and left for work with the candles still burning. The wreath and our dining room table were the only things that suffered fire damage. My home was still there. I was very relieved...but Little Brother and I continued on our trip. After the excitement that we'd endured, there was no way we could turn around and go back to school.

I didn't play the radio on the drive home. I listened to the sound of the road and the six words that seemed looped in my memory: "Fletch, the house is on fire!!"

I had a conversation with Jessie Saturday night about scent. I tried to explain to her how important the smell of different things was to me and how different scents are links to different memories.

Among the examples I gave was the fire we had at my house in May of 1980. A fire on the stove melted parts of the range and damaged some of the cabinetry in the kitchen. The smell left behind after the fire -- something I refer to as "the smell of a structure fire" -- stuck with me. It's always triggered something from within every time I pick up a whiff of it... Probably because you only smell it when something bad has happened.

My house was full of that smell when I walked in Monday night.

Wherever I'm at, I like to have a headquarters. I like to have refuge. I need a safe haven to flee to if necessary. If I don't have that, I'm not comfortable. I'm easy to irritate. I'm not a happy camper. As you can probably guess, I haven't been a happy camper this week.

Although the fire damage was limited to one room, many things smell funky and everything seems to have a fine layer of black funk on it. The insurance company is sending a restoration crew out next week to wash everything in the house... But until then, it doesn't seem like my home.

It doesn't smell like my house smells. It smells like smoke and the cinnamon my mom cooked to help kill the smell. I can't nap on the sofa in the living room because it would leave me dirty. When I want to pull a dish out of the cabinet, it has to be washed off first. On top of that, the drapery company came out today and took down all of the curtains, drapes and bed spreads for cleaning. Now my house is dirty and bare.

I guess there are two words in that last sentence that should send my complaints into the petty bitching file... "my house." Certainly, I could be sleeping in some motel on Red Cross vouchers. I could be looking at replacing everything I own instead of having it cleaned. I could be like the many people I've seen who lose everything in a fire and don't have the insurance to replace it.

Monday night, a cashier at Wal-Mart asked me in a routine sort of way, "how are you tonight?" I replied, "well, I've been better but I've been worse, so I guess I'm okay." The proper answer should have been, "I'm fabulous." Or perhaps, "I'm blessed," would have better fit the bill.

Funny how a situation is three-quarters perspective, isn't it?

copyright © 2001, Thomas Fletcher. all rights reserved.