A Chapter by Laura

I suppose you want to know about the fire.  But really, it’s a bigger story than that.  The fire was just the beginning.


Here’s how I remember it:  I’d just turned eight and I’d gotten a chemistry set, but mom had taken the Bunsen burner, only to be used under supervision.  I wanted to make mom some perfume from the recipe in the chemistry book, so I got a candle and a cardboard box lid and put it behind my bed.  While she made dinner, I created her perfume.  She called me, I propped the candle on the box lid and went to eat.


When I came back to my room, there was a wall of flame to the ceiling.  I remembered the words of Smokey the Bear, “Stay calm” and something about forest fires, but that didn’t apply, so I calmly walked into the dining room and said, “Mom, my room’s on fire.”  I don’t remember what she said, but she didn’t believe me.


Now to be fair to mom, let’s just say I didn’t always tell the whole truth, and with my imagination added to that, I probably came up with some whoppers.  In grade school, a little boy had tried to bully me and I’d knocked him down.  We were both sent for “evaluation” and I remember telling a psychiatrist about the pink and purple spotted elephants who came to visit me at my grandma’s house, and how they leaned over the fence to eat apples and figs and talked to me while I swung.


So that day, it wasn’t really a surprise she didn’t believe me.  With the bear still in my head, I calmly walked into the kitchen, got the mop bucket, walked into the bathroom, filled the bucket from the tub, walked into my room and threw the bucket of water on the fire.


I only have flashes of what happened next, I remember Dave breaking the plate glass window in my room and pulling my flaming mattress out.  I remember Heidi or Valerie, I’m not sure which, holding my mom back so she didn’t strangle me.


After that, mom couldn’t trust me to stay by myself for the hour or so until she got home from work, and grandma was taking care of my cousin Jay by that time, so mom enrolled me in The Southwest Christian Children’s Home.  I went there every Sunday afternoon and came home on most Friday evenings for three years.


Auntie and her mother, Dearie, were the head honchos.  Aunt Verda was the girl’s house parent, Doyle was the boy’s house parent, as well as the study hall and playground monitor.  Everyone had a paddle at all times.  I don’t remember what Auntie’s looked like, I rarely got that one.


Aunt Verda’s looked like one of those paddles that had a ball on a string attached, and she would swing at whatever part of your body she could get to.  Doyle’s paddle had a pattern of holes in it, was at least an inch thick and was rectangular.  For Doyle and Auntie, you had to bend down, keeping it pretty much to the butt and back of the thighs.  That was back in the day when spanking was accepted, and they were careful not to leave bruises, as the majority of us went home on weekends.  So complaints about beatings went nowhere, especially coming from kids who were no angels.


My memories of the home are scattered and mixed, there’s no timeline, they all seem to have blended into a big blob with just pieces sticking out, some pleasant, most not.  Many of my current phobias and fears come from those memories.  Just one example, when they took us to the dentist, the Novacaine always wore off before the end, so every visit hurt.  I had nightmares for years being strapped in a dental chair with this six foot hypodermic needle coming towards me.  Now, I’m terrified that the pain will hit any second, and I’m a total wreak in the chair.  My very nice and gentle dentist, who has never hurt me, still has to give me a Valium before I’ll even show up for a cleaning.


We got up, ate breakfast, gathered to pray, walked to and from school, did our homework in Doyle’s study hall, ate dinner, gathered for prayer again, then we could play until dusk.  After dark, we were stuck in our houses until morning.


Lori and I were best friends, tomboys who idolized Steve Austin, Six Million Dollar Man.  Gina wanted Lori to be her best friend, so she would get me into trouble as often as possible so I couldn’t play.  One time it snowed and Lori and I went outside, Gina told on us and we each got several spoons of Caster Oil as punishment.  If we cussed or sassed, Aunt Verda would pull us into the laundry room, take a handful of powered detergent and put it on our tongue, then hold our mouth closed while she lectured. 


Curling our hair every night with Dippity-Do and sponge rollers; the embroidered matching shirts that made us all look like fancy prisoners; two distinct song memories: every time I hear “Rhinestone Cowboy” by Glen Campbell, I flash on stacking the dishwasher in the kitchen; and every time I hear “Kung Foo Fighting,” I flash on the playground and the donut-shaped radio that twisted open that Santa brought us.


My first “boyfriend,” Victor.  I was cursed with b***s and a period at eight, so I was maybe nine, Victor was probably fourteen, one of the few actual orphans there.  One day he asked me to be his girlfriend, I said sure, we sat down to watch TV, he held my hand, he put his arm around me, he grazed my b**b, I decked him and walked out.  The next day, I “broke up” with him in front of my friends and I think I even called him a pervert.


For summers, the home took us far away from weekly parental interference, to Ruidoso, New Mexico.  The punishments were worse in the summers, for any number of infractions, as parental visits were planned in advance. 


For the most part, I have good summer memories.  Hiking, camping, horseback riding, swimming, tetherball, rolling down the hill curled in a metal barrel, playing barefoot in the cold crystal clear rivers, racing each other on wooden telephone wire spools, collecting colored phone wire off the roads to make friendship rings, and always running, running, running.   


My last summer, Doyle was going to give Wanda and I swats for something we thought was unfair, so we waited until everyone filed in for lunch and we took off down the road.  They caught us and brought us back about six hours later, then bribed us not to tell our parents why we ran away.  We both took the bribe and told anyway.


Shortly after returning from Ruidoso, Wanda got into trouble for something and the only thing handy to Aunt Verda was a belt.  As we walked to our house, she was steady beating Wanda over the shoulder.  On a backswing, I grabbed the belt out of Aunt Verda’s hand, she turned and grabbed it back and then started hitting me with the belt buckle.  Wanda then grabbed the belt and it became a free-for-all.


We both had plenty of bruises to show that time, and I never went back, I don’t know what happened to Wanda.  I don’t think the home was opened for too much longer after that either.


So there you go, now you know about the fire.  And Ol’ Smokey was right again: only I could have prevented that forest fire.

© 2010 Laura

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Added on April 13, 2010
Last Updated on April 15, 2010
Tags: memories



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