Burning down the house

The title pretty much says it all. If my Dad hadn’t needed water from the sink upstairs, I would have accomplished burning down the house.

The Hippie, a.k.a. my sister, Lynn

It was the December before my 6th birthday. My older sister, Lynn, was 17. She was lounging in the recliner in the family room downstairs watching TV. She was a hippie. More trouble was soon to come for her making bad decisions, but she made a particularly bad one that day when she asked this 5 year old to go upstairs to Mom’s room to get Mom’s lighter so she could have a cigarette. 

Mom knew she smoked. My Mom smoked like crazy so she couldn’t exactly tell her not to. Dad must have known too because he was home that day.  Mom must have been at work. 
It was around Christmas time. My mom had a huge box of Christmas paper in her bedroom to wrap presents. I noticed it when I ran in like a dutiful little girl and got the lighter off of Mom’s side table. I brought it to Lynn. She lit her cigarette. She told me to bring it back upstairs to Mom’s table. Mom liked to have a cigarette while she was watching TV in bed at night and would be mad if her lighter was missing. 
Up I ran the two floors to Mom’s room with the lighter in my hand. I started playing with it. Lighters are kind of tricky you know.  But I was a big girl and I thought it was kind of cool to see Lynn flick it and the flame appear. 
So I tried it. Couldn’t light it. Kept trying. And trying. Finally I got it. This was easy.  I was going to look cool and smoke like Lynn some day, I thought to myself. Look how grown up I look.  Ooh…look at the pretty paper! I wonder if it would really burn like the tip of Lynn’s cigarette? 
So I flicked the lighter and put the flame to just a wee corner of the wrapping paper. 
The house I nearly burned down. 28 Diana Lane. 

“Whoosh!” It caught fire instantaneously, and spread down the roll quickly. Then to the next roll. I stood there. Confused. What was happening? Why didn’t it just stay on that one piece that I lit? I tried to blow on it to put it out. Bad idea. It just spread it down the entire box of paper. Now I was scared.

I knew I’d get a spanking if anyone found out what I had done. So I backed out of the room and closed the door. And went to my room to play. And pretended it never happened. I had no concept of the danger everyone was in. Or how fire spreads. I just figured I would deny I had anything to do with it or blame the cat when they found the burned paper. In my 5 year old mind this made perfect sense. 
Luckily, my Dad happened upon the situation. I was told later that there was some issue with the water in the kitchen and Dad just by coincidence went upstairs to my mother’s bathroom to fill a pot with water.  When he opened the door, the flames were shooting up from the box near the door like a bonfire.
The arsonist. Me. Age 5

What I remember from that day was Dad yelling “Fire!” and everyone who was home was confused and disbelieving that there really was an emergency. Dad was a pretty mild mannered guy who never raised his voice. So they realized quickly this was no joke.   I was in total denial and shock. For sure I was getting spanked, was all I could think of. My Dad shouted for us to run across the street to the Long’s house and he told Lynn to have them call the fire department. I think my brother Rick was home, but I think my oldest brother Chuck had moved out by then. I don’t have any recollection of my sister Robin being there, but maybe she was. 

What I do recall is that Lynn saying it was all my fault. And that she had nothing to do with it. Hey, she had enough trouble she was getting into with the whole hippie thing–she needed to deflect the blame on this one. She still brings this up at holidays, believe it or not. Yep. Still all my fault.

 I started to cry when the fire engines came. I watched them come from where I was standing in front of  Bobby Long’s living room window. It was quite the excitement in our quiet little neighborhood. All the neighbors came outside to find out what was going on. I had no concept of what I had done until that moment.  Mom was livid with me when she was called home and saw what had happened. What was I thinking, she said. Why did I do that, she said. Then she reamed into Lynn for trusting a 5 year old with a lighter. What was she thinking, she said. Why did she do that, she said. 

The fire was contained to the bedroom and that one wall where the box was. There were burn marks on the wall and I recall my mother having to replace the carpet due to the burn and the water damage. Luckily no one was hurt and the damage was minimal. 
I felt a lot of guilt for that incident for a lot of years. But now it’s become sort of those kooky Horner stories we tell from time to time. 

I never felt the desire to smoke as I grew up. I’m guessing this incident had something to do with it. 


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