It has been 32 years since I had a decent sleep on the night of December 28 and 29 am. For me it is a night of restlessness and fear and though that fear has subsided there is still some residue.
That night had held some fear earlier. A fresh snow had fallen and kept us from going out for the evening. I was nervous to leave the kids alone with a sitter in a storm. She had planned to stay the night but it we cancelled.
I was, and still am, a woman who prays. That evening I had a very strange experience in prayer. It was if I had been visited by death itself and I recall falling on my knees and praying hard against any evil which would come against my family.
It was about 12:30 am when I tucked my two week old son into the cradle beside my bed. I had been up to feed him and we sat in the light of the Christmas tree as he ate and I admired the perfection in in his face and toes.
It had been an exhausting Christmas. Until December 16 I had been in hospital with a difficult pregnancy since mid November. There were hundreds of things to be done before Christmas day. There was baking, shopping, wrapping, decorating and more. My girls, ages five and seven, had also been away from home staying with friends while I was away. They were much too much for their father to handle at the time. He was having some struggles of his own. In short the two weeks since my son’s birth had been a whirlwind and I was exhausted.
Afraid to put him back into his own room because I wasn’t sure I would hear him, I tucked Bryan back in the cradle beside my bed, which he was already almost too big for. We both drifted off easily.
Suddenly at 2:30 am I was awakened by my husband with words of comfort and warning. “Don’t panic, but we have to get out of the house.”
The orange glow I saw over his shoulder caused me to abandon all I knew about escaping a burning house. I bolted from the bed and tore down the hall toward the baby’s room. As I reached the door in his room I realized it was ablaze and my gasp for air to scream brought hot smoke into my lungs burning as it entered.
It was then I remembered Bryan was in my room so I turned back from the flames and headed to the girls room. Christie was not there so I screamed for her Dad while I gathered up Gayle from the bottom bunk and hustled her toward the back door. On the way I pulled my Great Grandmother’s quilt from the bottom of my bed and threw it around the sleeping babe as I pulled him from the cradle. Christie was already at the back door. Donn was searching in the bedroom for his pants and car keys.
Keys in hand, Donn led us to the car. We had nightgowns, bare feet and a couple of blankets. He started the car and then ran to the neighbor’s across the street. I heard him pounding on their door. Then he ran back and moved the car through the new 10 inches of snow, into their driveway. We were safe but as the firetrucks and police cars approached the blaze filled the sky and I knew we would not have a home in the morning. Half of it was gone when I went running down the hall a few minutes before.
It was a night of terror but also of miracles. I was very glad I had prayed so hard that evening. The room where the babysitter would have been was fully involved in the fire when I woke up. Christie doesn’t know for sure how she got off that top bunk but remembers a very big person she had never seen before carrying her through the smoke to the back room. The baby was in the cradle and never would have made it if he had been in his own room. That smoke I had swallowed would have killed him in an instant.
We had wakened my grandmother and parents to take us in, in the wee hours of morning. (They lived in the same house). Morning brought with it another sort of miracle. Those firemen who had arrived in under five minutes to try to save our home had wives who had been hard at work since the call too. By 8 am they were at the door with clothing, including snow suits , coats hats and boots, for all of us. The insurance agent was at the door by 9 with cash in hand so we could begin to buy things we needed immediately and before New Year’s Eve we had found a cottage to stay in. One room of it was filled with donations we had received of clothing. My former boss at the drug store had opened the basement of the store to take in other donations and also allowed us to keep our purchases there until the house was ready.
While I saw the miracles of a small town’s love and other miracles which I cannot ever explain I still have a little trouble sleeping on this night.
That reminds me I need to check the smoke alarm.