Thursday, March 12, 2009

Thursday, March 12, 1992

Today I'm gonna tell you a story.

On this day in 1992, there was a blizzard in northern Vermont, where I lived. I was 16 years old. My mom was driving the two of us home from work/school in a powder blue Oldsmobile Cutless sedan that had belonged to my grandmother until she got too feeble(minded) to drive. It was very dark, and the dirt road we lived on was slick with over a foot of snow, but we made it to our driveway, which is where we ran into trouble.

The house we lived in was on top of a hill and had a very long, steep driveway that was over a mile long. The house was a brick cape with an addition and attached garage, and commanding views of the NH Presidential Range and Vermont's Green Mountains. A lovely spot, but a bitch to get to.

We had a difficult time getting the car up the driveway, and my mom gunned the engine perhaps a bit more than she should have. We finally struggled to the top amidst squeeling tires and the smell of burning rubber. She parked in the garage, and we went inside. I took off my shoes and coat.

About 10 minutes later, my mom decided to check on the car because "it just seemed too hot" from the climb up the driveway. When she opened the garage door, the entire car was engulfed in flames, and fire was licking at the ceiling and melting the freezer next to the car already. She panicked and ran for a fire extinguisher while I hit the fire department speed dial button. We had a couple of bad moments when she came and hit the button after I already had, and we had to hang up and try again, etc. Pandemoniam. Mayhem. Panic.

I threw on my dad's work boots as the living area closest to the garage was starting to fill with smoke. I herded the dogs outside and searched for our two cats, finding only one. Consumed with panic, I looked around the living room and tried to think of what I should grab, since it seemed apparent by then that the living room was toast. Instead of grabbing the irreplacable framed photos or the whole drawer of photo albums, I took:

a tube of lip balm
a pillow from the couch
the TV remote
another pair of my father's boots

Panic and fear do weird things to you, what can I say?

We fled to the horse barn, located about 100 yards from the house. The fire department came, but couldn't get their trucks up the driveway either. They sat at the bottom of the hill until another town came with a truck that had chains on the tires. Eventually, 7 different town fire departments would respond. The fire got so hot that the trucks ran out of water, and in northern VT there are no sisterns every mile or so like we have in suburbia. Several trucks left, seeking a frozen pond from which they hoped to refill their tanks. Many firefighters just wandered around the blazing structure, scratching their heads and frowning. The entire house was consumed with 2 hours.

I watched it burn from the cold horse barn, holding a franticly peeing cat while my dogs cowered at my feet. The worst part of the night came when I saw my father staggering through the snow towards the barn, openly weeping. My dad's a stoic guy and I had never seen him cry before, so this was a jarring sight. Apparently, no one had bothered to tell the man that my mom and I were not in the house. He came home from work to find the house on fire, firetrucks everywhere, the car in the garage, and us... nowhere.

Thankfully, someone managed to get ahold of my sister at work to tell her what had happened so she didn't have to have a similar moment of absolute soul-crushing sadness.

We spent the night at a neighbor's house. We woke up with just the clothes we had been wearing, no toothbrush, and reeking of smoke. I was still wearing my dad's size 12 work boots.

We lost every material posession we owned. I have no baby pictures of myself.

But, we rebuilt. We healed. We got new "stuff." We cherished each other more than ever, because we realized that people are the only things that can never be replaced. Everything else is gravy, but loved ones are important.

Today it's sunny and reasonably warm, no snow in the forecast, but I won't ever forget what surprises a day in March can hold.


Samsmama said...

WOW! That was quite the story! I'm chuckling that you grabbed the lip balm and the remote, though.

Brooklyn ML said...

I don't think I knew the full story of the fire. Wow. I'm glad you all came through. Love.