In the year just before I became a teenager, I was a budding, amateur firebug. My Mom was a cigarette smoker. In those early days, I was a fairly severe asthmatic, and I preached regulary to both of my parents about the effects of secondhand smoke in our home (with no effect).
Our modest home had baseboard heaters. It was not a very efficient way to heat a home, but it is what we had. One late afternoon, my mother had been ironing something and had left the ironing board set up in our dining room, close to an inside wall where there was a working baseboard heater. I had taken an interest in the lighter my mother kept perched upon her pack of cigarettes and wondered how effectively it would light the dangling string descending from the ironing board.
With my mother in the den on the other side of the house, I learned that cotton drawstrings are very flammable and an excellent conductor of fire to larger cloth surfaces, like ironing board covers. At first, I thought I had this under control. I raced to the bathroom to get a glass of water to extinguish the growing fire, but I didn’t imagine the height of flame one small spark was capable of producing. It was impressive!
My mom came from nowhere. I honestly only saw a streak of fire flash through the dining room, out the kitchen door, and onto the driveway just outside, six feet below the porch. There was yelling, smoke, heat, panic, and fear. Most of the fear was actually mine, to be honest, because I knew the origin of this fire, and this was not going to be good.
Once back inside, Mom was a wreck. I could see the concern and fear in her eyes for what could have happened in this scenario. She came right for me. In one quick, swooping motion she had me completely enveloped and was hugging me tightly. She was so relieved that I wasn’t injured that she just hugged me while cursing those “damn baseboard heaters.”
Seriously? Had she really blamed the heater? Oh… My…. God…. I was off the hook! I quickly jumped right on that story and was all but shouting “AMEN!” at the accusations she was heaving at those evil wall-bound appliances. “It could have killed us…” I would claim. “Those things can’t be safe!” I would say, shaking my head from side to side. It’s not really bearing false witness if the perpetrator is an inanimate object, is it? I began to pray a prayer I would later come to know as the drinking prayer. “God, if you just let me live through this, I will never_________ again!” He was, too! He was going to let me live to see another day.
When Mom and I were both sufficiently exhausted from our condemnation of baseboard heaters, we were cleaning everything up that was streaked with black from the flames and ashes. I was sweeping the floor when Mom took the drinking cup back to the bathroom. We would head outside to retrieve the ironing board next and clean it up as well.
Then, it happened. Mom came in the dining room with a brand new fire in her eyes. She looked at me with hot anger, and I knew her look of hot anger very well. I saw her wild eyes and the terse tightness of her pursed lips. Her shoulders were rigid from betrayal, and her outstretched hand was shaking as it clenched her cigarette lighter.
“Shit” was all I could think.