As I was growing up, I spent a great deal of time at my grandma's house, as she lived just a half dozen blocks from my house in Binghamton, NY and as close to my elementary school as my own house, so I'd often have lunch there. She had a coal stove and one my jobs was to to go down to the basement and shovel up a couple pails of coal to keep the fires burning.
After my grandmother moved south, and I stayed in her house in the winter of 1975, I realized how inept I was at keeping the fires going on my own. Obviously, I was doing something wrong, and the flames went out. So it's February, it's bitterly cold, I have a mountain of covers on and I'm using a space heater. A quilt comes off the bed and catches fire. Fortunately something woke me up, perhaps the acrid smell, but possibly some psychic connection to my mother who SWEARS she woke up in Charlotte, NC at that very time to warn me; I don't dismiss it out of hand.
When I was about nine, there was a massive fire on my grandma's one-block street, Maple Street. An apartment complex called the Rogers Block, four wooden structures as I recall, all caught fire and were utterly destroyed. I don't believe anyone was hurt, but naturally, many lives were disrupted. It took a while for the area to be razed, and for months, I'd walk by from across the street and smell that very distinct post-fire odor.
Every year, at Midwinter's, there's a bonfire where one can throw pieces of paper representing things to get rid of from the previous year, although one year, we threw in the chair of one of our founding members of the tribe, who had died the year before. Indeed, the fire that represents me on this blog comes from a photo of a Midwinter's wax magick burst.
Totally coincidentally, this week, my daughter had me read a book called A Chair for My Mother by Vera B. Williams, which is about a family who lost everything in a fire, got some stuff from their neighbors, but who were saving up for a nice plush chair to put into the new apartment. It's a Caldecott winner, and I'd recommend it.
My sister lives in southern California, not in a traditionally fire-prone area, yet a couple years ago, she could see the flames in her neighborhood. She was fortunately spared, but many were not. The photo above I believe she took.
I recall that there was this young woman on JEOPARDY! in the college tournament a few years back who had experienced a fire and was pleased that she was able to start over; Alex Trebek looked at her as though she were crazy, but at some level, I understood her point.
The dichotomy about fire fascinates me: useful tool, destructive force. Even theologically, that comes up, the notion of hellfire
vs. the idea of being "on fire for the Lord". Today is Ash Wednesday and it is with the remnants of fire with which some Christians will be marked.
Anyway, here's one of my favorite fire songs, by the OHIO PLAYERS:
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