Friday, January 19, 2007

Standing too close to the fire -- jcarolek

I stood in front of my fireplace this morning, warming my chilled feet and legs by the gas logs’ flames’ warmth. I stood, as I always do, with my back to the fire, allowing the warmth to envelope me. I was reminded of a time years ago when, at the age of 10, I stood in just such a fashion in front of the “fire place” in our living room in our house in England.

Now the fire place was really nothing like any I had send before, or since. It had no logs, fake or otherwise and I don’t believe it had a flue. It looked like a louvered rectangle, and was fueled by gas. The wall surrounding this fireplace was tile. Nevertheless, it’s warmth was very welcome in a house without central heat.

I stood there, back to the fire, on a chilly afternoon, having returned home from school, still wearing the grey and pink uniform required of all students at New Court. Mom chided me to get up to my room and change out of my uniform but I tarried. I wanted to get warm! With five other children to keep her attention off me, I managed to stay put in front of the fire just a few more minutes. I knew my reprieve would be short-lived and I backed closer to the fire, in hopes I would be well toasted before I had to go change.

I caught an odd smell and wrinkled my nose trying to discern its origin. It could only have been seconds before the source of the smell became evident and alarm bells began ringing furiously in my head. The smell was coming from me…from behind me…and the smell was of burning. I was not on fire. Rather, my uniform cardigan, carefully knitted for me by my mother, was on “singe”. By the time I discovered my predicament, it was too late to salvage. The back of the sweater was black and ruined. I knew all too well, my behind was soon going to be warmed in a way other than I had intended.

Well, I don’t recall the punishment. I don’t even recall how I broke the news to my mother, but I know I did. I had to, because it would have been impossible to hide. I had to because I was raised to tell the truth. But mostly, I had to, because I knew the punishment would be far worse if I tried to hide it than if I confessed immediately.

I remember my mother, carefully examining the damage and deciding that she could, indeed create a new back for the cardigan. The sleeves and front were not damaged. So, she set about knitting a new back for my uniform cardigan and I remember thinking, how lucky I was I had been wearing it that day as I warmed myself.

Getting too close to the fire is something I have never done again. I now know to be patient and the warmth will come to me. I look at a lot of things the way I look at that fireplace these days. Sometimes, the simple desire to enjoy the warmth, results in getting singed, if not burned. I take more care than I did at 10, and I suppose I should. I have been burned by things other than fires, and I often discover, the warning signs were there and I just could not bring myself to heed them.

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