This was such a strange past week with fires, and the evacuations of our home and the clean-up. It makes you think about a lot of things. But this past week is also worth remembering for a number of personal reasons, too. Last Tuesday would have been my mom’s 83rd birthday, so that got me thinking. And today (the 30th) marks the two-year anniversary of her death.
So this confluence of fire and home and family got me thinking of one of my mom’s favorite stories to tell on me – and this seems like the right day to do it. Mom would lean back and say, “Oh Stephen, do you remember that day you almost burned the house down?”
The Ancestral Betz Home was a corner row house in Camden NJ. It had a ground level basement and a one-car garage. The garage and basement had side-by-side doors that led onto the sidewalk (so you could quickly get from one to the other) but no connector.
Besides my dad's trusty Plymouth Fury (actually, that car was a piece of crap, but I will use nostalgic license to decide it was a good car), mom would save our newspapers in the garage that would ever few months be picked up by this really old guy in a beat up station wagon because he could recycle them. Now this was the 70s – there was no green movement. This was the equivalent of picking up aluminum cans off the street to get the deposit back.
Now it was the summer and I was a kid (maybe 7 or 8) and I used to like to play with “punks”. Does anyone else remember these? I don’t know why we played with them. Probably because you had to use fire to light them – and fire was cool. And that they smoked for a long time – and, of course, smoking was cool. (Remember, it’s the early 70s).
Anyway, one day I was playing with some punks in the garage, and got bored and set the punks down and left. Did I set them down on the concrete garage floor? No. I set them on the months-old stacks of dried newspapers.
Of course, a few minutes later my brother and I notice the aroma of smoke. We rush into the garage and discover a conflagration quickly getting underway (the garage was right under the kitchen which was plumbed with natural gas – so yeah, bad). My brother (6 years older than me) and I decide that we should form a bucket brigade between the sink in the basement and the garage. Our bucket: a 24 oz plastic cup of the 7-Eleven variety of that era.
We do not make much progress on the fire.
A few moments later my sister (who is ~20 years old at this time) rushes in and screams, “What the hell are you morons doing?!?! Put the fire out with the hose!”
Yes – in our panic, my brother and I missed the obvious solution of turning on the garage faucet that already had a hose attached to it. Opting instead for transporting and throwing cups of water on the blaze. With Barb’s keen direction, the fire was out quickly and no damage was done.
In my nostalgic haze, I recall that we all sat down later, discussed my poor decision making, brainstormed on ideas to prevent such a thing happening in the future, reviewed basic fire safety, and then went out for ice cream.
And if you believe that, I got a Plymouth Fury to sell you.