During the coldest part of January the building wide alarm in our condo sounded. It was 9:00 at night. The temperature below freezing. The Diva and I were reading in our pajamas. The alarm sounded – evacuate. Well trained by the schools and my profession, the Diva and I did just as instructed. We evacuated immediately.
She grabbed her dog, a shoe, and a sweatshirt. I took a quilt and my coat (bare feet didn’t cross my mind at that moment) and out the door we went. And there we stood, the only people who had truly evacuated. My feet didn’t even note the cold until we were bundled into a neighbors car to await the fire department.
At 9:32 we were allowed back into our home.
At 9:32 we tried to return to a normal life.
I know the time because the Diva noted it. For a few days she couldn’t relax until after 9:32 as she expected the alarm to sound again; for the building to be evacuated. The issue wasn’t a fire but a burst pipe in the unit below mine. A burst pipe set off the alarm in four buildings. That burst pipe left my daughter unsettled for a few days and played upon an old issue of my own – fire.
Having lived in a communal setting for the majority of my adult life, I have felt many of the associated pangs of insecurity or uncertainty. While living in a dorm, we went through the monthly planned and unplanned fire drills. In Prague I could hear the details of the conversations all around me and felt the uncertainty of the past in the shadows outside. Would the secret police storm the building tonight? Of course, this was completely unrealistic as Prague no longer had a secret police department in 1992 but… I grew up with the specter of the USSR.
In graduate school it was fire. My apartment had a faulty fire alarm that would sound frequently. The complex requested that I dismantle it, which I did. For the remainder of my time there I thought about fires. Leaving that apartment proved amazingly liberating. I could finally sleep through the night without hearing the sound of the fire alarm.
Within five years of leaving that apartment, my childhood town tucked on the side of a very large mountain surrounded by forests of pine, oak, and aspen felt the threat of fire. The town evacuated; the winds changed saving it from the destruction experienced just miles away as the crow flies. A picture hangs on the wall in my parents Arizona room showing the height of the flames as they approached the town. The picture is both beautiful and frightening. Despite the evacuation happening years ago, the halls of my parents home are devoid of the pictures that were hung in 1976. The threat of fire remains. The people of the town talk about it annually despite the amount of moisture the area has received of late. Fire; beauty, passion, power.
In January fire, or the potential of it, touched my life again. I find myself thinking of fire. I live with people who directly impact the security of my family and my home in regards to fire. For the first time that January night I honestly looked at the reality of living in a house. It isn’t realistic as there are just the two of us; we are safer in our little home. However, the idea of not being directly effected by the people downstairs or across the hall (who are fabulous by the way) is quite appealing.
The power and the passion
I have a love/hate relationship with the element.
Mama Llama wrote a wonderful post on the beauty of the Flame and its magic. I found myself remembering the love of the light I had as a child and carried with me into adulthood. A love and delight that is quite separate from the emotions I feel regarding fire to date.
I grew up with camp fires and fire places. The summers were filled with cook outs. We would pack coolers with food and picnic supplies, load the pick-up, and head for the forest where a fire would crackle and provide our light as the afternoon sun faded into twilight. I remember cooking hot dogs on sticks, roasting marshmallows, and heating the ends of sticks until they served as pens with which we could draw wonderful pictures in the dark. Flames danced and crackled. Sparks flew. Laughter and conversation felt more intimate as the night closed in and fire cast its warmth. Such evenings filled my summers and falls throughout my childhood and into my high school years. They are evenings I have not experienced since.
Winters I spent by the fire side. When we moved into our “new” house, the living room was left empty while my mom waited to find the furniture she wanted. This left the room for the kids and creative imaginations. The room became my dance studio (and I wonder where the Diva gets her love for dance). It was where I learned to do the splits, where my friend broke her arm while doing cartwheels, and where I practiced cheerleading. The room hosted a fireplace with a delightful fire in the winter. I remember reading throughout my childhood by fire light. I did my history reports with my materials in an antique chair and the fire dancing on the walls. I studied the horrors of WWII with the warmth of the fire chasing away the cold fingers of the past. The fire played its music and cast its magic on cold Christmas mornings as we gathered before it to drink hot chocolate and open our gifts. It’s warmth and light were an ever present part of my life.
My childhood is marked by the dancing light of the fire. Like Ms Llama, I delighted in the different colors that danced in the flames with a shot of chimney cleaner. Like her, I spent time gazing into its light and its depths. I too know the magic and the power of the fire and its flames.
It is difficult to imagine the fire of my youth with the fire that tickles my imagination today. I want my daughter to know the delight of a camp fire or the magic of the dancing flames. She needs to appreciate the power of the flame while understanding its magic and mystery. Perhaps one day she will know the joy of curling up fireside with a quilt and a good book or the amazing warmth that spreads across the back while sitting on the hearth. Perhaps I will know these feelings again as well.