As a preachers kid, having my girlfriend over to the parsonage, after dark, was a tricky business. It required the planning and finesse of 007. Unfortunately, I was more like Lurch.
I have many precious and wonderful memories of my girlfriend in high school. We were together for a large part of our high school time. This might be one memory, however, I’d rather forget.
When you’re 16 or 17 years of age and living with a Methodist preacher, your idea of romantic is probably going to come from sources other than your parents. Usually movies were the source for ideas, since “guys” didn’t use the word romantic until they were in at least their late 20’s. It was one of those terms that young “guys” never uttered. “Romantic” was on the same list as “relationship” and “feelings”. As a young “guy” you could think them, but you wouldn’t dare say them out loud.
The early 80’s were a different time. You could drive at an earlier age and beer was legal at age 18. This meant that just about everyone in high school was driving something. We were able to get beer, even when underage. It wasn’t too tough to pull off.
The parsonage in Valley Falls was a split level layout with a family room and garage on the ground floor. The living room and rest of the house were upstairs. It was built on a steep hillside, so it worked out pretty well.
One of the homes features was the double fireplace. The family room had a large fireplace with the chimney leading directly to the second one above it in the living room.
Since I was older, mom had agreed to let me put my bedroom in the downstairs family room. This would allow me more space for all the junk I seemed to be collecting. I think, however, the fact that I liked loud music of a very non-religious type helped me make my case for the downstairs room. The room itself was divided into 3 parts, my bedroom, dads study, and the rest as an actual family room with couch and fireplace.
…..So it was on this particular weekend winter night that mom and dad were upstairs watching tv in the living room. It had been snowing and sleeting so everything was frozen or wet outside.
I had been cruising around town with my girlfriend listening to the stereo. As was standard practice, we’d been able to procure several cans of beer. The bad weather meant that not too many of our friends were out cruising so there weren’t too many people to yell at or talk to.
My plan, after drinking a couple of those beers, was leaning toward the romantic in nature. We could go some where and park the car for a while, but my car was a two door and the back seat wasn’t too roomy for any type of activity. We decided since it was so bitter cold outside, that snuggling up under a blanket somewhere dark and indoors sounded more appealing. The alternative was parking in the freezing cold. Obviously, there are ways to keep warm, but the weather was getting bad so going indoors looked like a good choice.
So I hatched my plan to try the directly innocent approach. This is a method of dealing with very suspicious parents. The very fact that you are telling them what you are up to alleviates their suspicions. Except you leave out a few key details. The key one here was that I had my girlfriend with me.
We pulled into the driveway and went in the front door. Since the living room was upstairs, the parents didn’t see who it was. So I left the lights out as we went in the house. I yelled up the stairs to mom that I had decided to come home and just hang out. Maybe I’d watch a little tv on the small set downstairs.
Mom acknowledged my statement by reminding me to lock the front door. She then told me to sleep well. This was great because it meant that she wasn’t planning on coming downstairs or to check on me before I went to sleep. She probably figured I’d decided against cruising in the slick weather.
The two of us quietly walked down the hallway and into the downstairs family room. It seemed like the perfect situation. I’d leave the lights out, have the tv on, and throw a small blanket over the two of us to sort of snuggle down in.
At 54 I’m able to say snuggle. At that age I’m sure it wouldn’t have been a cool enough word for me to say.
The room was always a little cool and so we sat there under the blanket thinking stuff that 16 year olds think……..
I had just enough of the beer in me to act like a 16 year old, for better or for worse. In this case, it was worse.
I was Mr. Cool and thought I was the great Ladies Man. I had my girlfriend in the dark, under a blanket, after consuming a few drinks, and had fooled my parents. They thought I was going to bed earlier than normal and weren’t planning on coming downstairs to check on me. I pulled off my coat, kicked off my shoes, and settled in for a lovely evening. It would be smooth sailing…..oh yea………
At that point I realized a fire in the fireplace would be one of the most romantic things I could do to set the mood. After all, that was what I was hoping for. All I had to do was retrieve some wood from the pile outside. It would be quick, so I wouldn’t need to put my shoes or coat back on.
I quietly got up and carefully opened the front door. This was critical because my parents kept a string of bells hanging on the door to let them know when someone came or went. I grabbed the bells and held onto them tightly so that they wouldn’t ding and expose my plan. I carefully, and without shoes on, stumbled in the dark past the garage doors and over to the wood pile at the edge of the property. It was icey so my feet began to get numb from the cold as I quickly dug through the pile looking for some dry wood. I ended up stubbing my toe on a brick laying in the yard. Luckily my feet were turning numb, so the pain was initially limited.
I had to get the armload of wood into the house without making a sound. I also had to gather the wood very quietly because the wood pile was directly beneath the windows of my parents bedroom.
If I was discovered by mom, the plan would be over. She’d never buy the idea that I decided to build a fire for myself. She would immediately decide I was up to something. Carefully and quietly I gathered several pieces of wood in the dark. I turned with my armload of wood and crept across the icy driveway.
Suddenly, without warning, my numb feet slid out from under me and I fell straight down on my butt. The spilling pieces of wood rolled in several directions across the driveway. A couple pieces even slid under the car. I sat there motionless, stunned and freezing, waiting to see if anyone had heard the fall. I tried to keep from moaning or groaning because landing on the concrete really hurt.
I sat there trying to decide if I should just give up the plan. After a few minutes I was over the initial shock of the spill and the pain that shot up from my rear end seemed bearable. As I fell to the concrete I had tried to stop the fall and had also hit my right elbow somehow.
So there I was……. sitting on the icy driveway…. in the dark….firewood scattered about….stubbed toe throbbing….feet 90 percent numb from cold….. and my rear end screaming in pain from the impact. On this particular weekend it was bitter cold outside. Have I mentioned that yet?
So there I was crawling around on the icy driveway on my bare hands and knees. I didn’t mention gloves, because I had skipped putting those on as well. After all, this was just supposed to be a quick trip to the wood pile. No fuss, no muss.
After several minutes of crawling about in the cold darkness, I was able to gather my pieces of wood back up. I even shimmied under the car to get the wood that ended up there. I crept back to the front door and attempted to…oh …so…carefully…open the door without those bells dinging. This was made a bit tougher because my hands and fingers, by this time, had also gone numb from crawling around the driveway.
Slowly…….and….ever…so…quietly….I got through the door. I then turned around to try and hold the bells with my hand as I balanced the wood in my arms. I then slowly and ever so carefully closed the door, without a sound. Success!!……
I slowly limped down the dark hall dragging the numb foot with the throbbing toe. I was bent over with pain from the fall and the armload of wood. I sort of looked like Frankensteins assistant Lurch with a hunch back and limp. Carefully through the dark hallway I limped into the family room where my girlfriend was waiting under the warm blanket.
After all this, I was going to have a fire in that fireplace……..no matter what…….
I laid the wood down beside the fireplace and blew on my fingers to thaw them out. I then limped over to the nearby shelf to get matches.
I looked over to my girlfriend and tried to appear cool even though I had just gone through the trail of terror and pain to get the logs. I still had to maintain appearances, though I was fairly sure my toe, rear end, and right arm were hurting enough to be broken.
She smiled back at me. She was blissfully unaware that I had turned the simple trip for wood into a lesson in cold weather survival.
I carefully wadded up paper and then put small pieces of wood on top. I lit it with a match and the fire seemed to take off. After several minutes I placed a couple larger pieces of wood on top of the small ones. It was standard campfire procedure and seemed to be going well.
After a few minutes, however, the fire seemed to die. Upon closer inspection I discovered the problem was that since we were inside now, the wood had begun to thaw. The thin layer of ice that coated the outside had started melting. The wood was becoming wet and my fire died out.
Here I was with my girlfriend in a darkened room and a fireplace. On top of that I had fooled my mother and literally crawled on my hands and knees through the frozen tundra, to get firewood.
I absolutely….would not…let that fire die! This 16 year old, beer addled, sneaky, boyfriend, with possible frostbite, wasn’t about to lose his cool and ruin the perfect evening plans.
As I sat there dejected, the answer suddenly came to me…….of course….why hadn’t I thought of it earlier……..
I quietly limped out into the attached garage. I looked around for lighter fluid, but couldn’t find any. So I went with the next best thing. The gas can by the lawnmower in the corner.
Maybe I could use gasoline like lighter fluid. You squirt some on and let it soak in for several minutes. You then light it off in a very benign and controlled manner. No one in the rest of the house would be the wiser. We’d quietly get our fire started and the evenings plans could go forward as hoped for.
I took a plastic drinking glass and poured in about a cups worth of gasoline. I walked back into the family room and smiled at my girlfriend. I had this handled…..I was so cool…….
The fire had died down with no visible flames, so I opened up the glass doors to expose the dying fire to fresh air with a woosh. At the same time I cassually tossed the cup of gasoline onto the fire I thought was dead……
I was about 3 foot from the fire as I tossed the gasoline into the confined space of the fireplace….
My girlfriend later described the ensueing fireball as shooting out of the fireplace, around me, and into the open air of the family room.
It was accompanied by a very loud “KABOOOM” as the fireball exploded into the room. I don’t know if it was the concussion of the blast or me instinctively jumping out of self preservation, but I ended up across the room…….I was half blinded by the flash….. deafened by the blast…… laying against the front of dads desk….
Almost immediately, I heard what sounded like a herd of horses rumbling through the second flooor and down the stairs……………MOM…………
She yelled as she ran, “What on earth is going on?… Are you alive?… What have you done?…” and this was all shouted as she was coming down the stairs and through the hall. She stepped into the darkend room and turned on the lightswitch.
There she found a girl who appeared to be in a bit of shock and surprise sitting on the couch under a blanket.
There was a bit of smoke and an odor of gasoline and burned hair in the air.
On the floor I was just starting to regain my wits as I laid there, with singed eyebrows, ears ringing, and smoking hair. Mom asked if I was trying to blow up the house and all I could manage to do was cough.
Apparently the flash and loud BOOM went up the chimney and out the open fireplace doors where mom happened to be sitting. She actually thought the house HAD blown up. I guess it sort of did………blow up.
I had hoped for a memorable evening. I got it…………. but, not what I was expecting.
We had church the next morning. Luckily for me……… no one asked what happened to my eyebrows?