A little bit is good, but more is better………Right? Especially when it comes to fire…………..or was that ice cream?
It was a warm Saturday afternoon in Riley. I was in 5th grade and looking for something to do. It was a little boring around the Methodist Parsonage that day. Mom and dad were busy with getting things ready for the Sunday church services. My little sister was inside the house playing with Barbies and I was outside.
I began palying with a couple toy fire engines I had in the sand pile out back. Pretty soon I found a couple cardboard boxes and drew windows on them. They would become the buildings that would require the fire department. I had a black marker and used it to make the boxes look like multi-story office buildings. I carefully drew windows and doors on each side. I then set them in the sand and smoothed out parking lots and streets leading up to them.
I played with the fire engines for a while and pretended to have the fire engines respond to fires in my make-believe buildings.
After a while, though, I began to get a little bored with that. So, I went into the house and found a box of matches in the kitchen. I took those back to the sand pile. I also found an old squirt bottle and filled it with water.
I would then set the boxes on fire in different places and pretend to have the fire trucks respond to a real fire. I would then use the squirt bottle to put the fire out. I’d take little plastic army men and put them on the roof as victims and try to save them before the flames got to them.
I was able to rescue most of the victims, but unfortunately, some of them melted into little green puddles of plastic. This was a lot of fun and I kept getting more boxes and repeating the process.
Unfortunately…. I ran out of boxes.
I was on a roll and enjoying myself so I found some old boards in the garage and stacked them in the general shape of a building. The problem I now faced was that the lumber wouldn’t light by using a little match. I needed something to get a little fire going.
I went back into the garage and looked for lighter fluid, but couldn’t find any. There was, however, the gas can for the lawnmower. I knew that pouring a whole can of gasoline on something and placing a match on it was very dangerous. I needed to be able to just pour a little dab of gasoline on the wood.
After a few moments of deliberation, I went back into the kitchen and got a plastic glass. It held about 16 ounces at most.
I filled the glass partially with gasoline from the lawnmower gas can and went back outside.
My 5th grade science had not gotten to the subject on the volatility of substances at room temperature. All I knew was that if I poured too much gasoline on the fire, it would get very big, quite fast.
This meant that I had to be careful, because one thing that seemed to place mom on alert was the smell of smoke when she couldn’t see what I was doing.
I set up my safety equipment by getting the garden hose out and pulling it up by the wooden structure. I even left it on and let the water casually flow down the gravel alley beside the house.
I started by pouring little drips on the wood and setting down the gas cup and using a match to set the wood on fire where the gasoline had been poured. I would then play with the fire trucks and the water squirt bottle to put it out.
……There was a certain point in this game where the fun was no longer about playing with fire trucks and pretend buildings. At a certain point, the fun came from setting stuff on fire and watching it burn.
I stacked more wood on the building, which at some point became just a pile of wood and something to burn. I was having a lot of fun pouring gasoline on the wood and then lighting it with matches. I’d let it burn a bit and then put it out with the hose.
Building a full fledged bonfire would get me into trouble, but just doing it in little pieces surely wouldn’t qualify as building a fire.
I was feeling pretty confident as I repeatedly poured gasoline on the wood and then put it out with the hose. It seemed pretty tame to me. What could go wrong?…….
I ran out of gasoline so I left the smoldering fire and went into the garage and refilled the glass. I put a little too much in. It was right up to the edge of the glass. I walked very carefully so that it didn’t spill. I walked out the door and went over to the hose to turn it up to a higher rate of flow. I figured I was going to pour it directly on the smoldering fire this time so I needed to have the water turned up.
I then turned and walked quickly past the back door and toward the pile of wood on the edge of the driveway. I was walking quickly because I was afraid I was going to spill it.
Just as I walked past the back door, I heard a loud voice say “What on earth are you doing?” Simultaneously, the door slammed shut with a loud bang………….MOTHER!
I’m not sure if it was guilt or because I was clumsy. All I know is that I hadn’t even had time to turn and face mom, when I stumbled……….this resulted in the glass of gasoline pouring down my right hand and arm. From there it found an ignition source in the smoldering fire.
There was a big ball of fire on the wood pile, but I looked down and my right hand and arm down to my elbow were on fire.
This was the point when I stopped thinking and began just reacting.
I turned toward mom, but didn’t really register that she was there. I held my right arm up in the air away from my face and began to run. I let out a long sustained scream of terror. It was probably a pretty high scream, I admit it.
Mothers view would have been of seeing a large fireball and me turning around. Then as I squealed in fright I ran past her holding my flaming arm and hand up in the air like the Statue of Liberty.
Panic immediately took hold and I ran to the front yard. Somewhere in there I remembered the hose was running and ran back. As I was running I tried smothering the flames with my left hand and arm. This didn’t do anything but fan the flames. I got to the hose and let the water pour down my hand and arm until the flames were completely extinguished.
There had been so much gasoline in the cup that the unburned excess was burning as it floated down the alley from the running hose.
At this point, it was really tough to tell mom I was doing nothing. The adrenaline was beginning to wear off and the pain of a burn began to set in. We then piled into the car and went to the emergency room at the hospital.
This was not what mom and dad had envisioned for their Saturday evening.
Seriously, though, it had to have been traumatic for my mom. She walked out the door and saw her child go up in a fireball suddenly and then run in panic across the yard. To me she was mom. She was the “rock”. Nothing rattled her as far as I knew. In reality it must have scared her to death seeing her child on fire.
One person commented on a previous post about Good looking out for children and fools. I couldn’t agree more. In this case I was both and he must have been looking out for me because it could have so much worse.
Over the years I’ve told the story as one of those stupid things I did growing up. This is the first time I’ve actually contemplated the trauma this must have inflicted on mom.
She yelled at me and then she bandaged me up. The one thing she didn’t do was give up on me. Despite my best efforts at self destruction over the years, she never gave up on me.
Of course, there were those times she changed the house numbers and name on the mailbox while I was gone, but that’s another story. I’m sure it really was a mistake, Mom.