By | September 27, 2012

It was a gorgeous fall day. The air was crisp and charged with the smoke of our trashpile slowly dying away.

Mother had just finished my new petticoat and it was all I could do to keep from flouncing around the house like a fairy princess. Why would she give me all this glorious fabric, and then tell me to sit still? It’s the closest I’ve ever looked to royalty. I’m not sitting still.

I twirl my skirts and let them flair out fully before I sit down with my dolls. We’re close to the fire, but not too close.

I’m in my own magical world of pink petticoats and pretty dolls when it happens. It doesn’t make sense that it happens–how my beautiful skirt is now shriveling beneath an ember, I don’t know.

All I know is fear. I begin to run, hoping that the fire will stay behind and my skirt will be spared. Yet, the faster I run the more it burns. The tiny ember catches flame and now my entire petticoat is ablaze.

Running. Screaming. Panicking.

Through the intricate, beautiful layers of my petticoat I can feel the fire eating at me. The warm sensation blasts into millions of tiny knives and slices my back to pieces.

The boys are a ways off, playing. Mother is a ways off, doing dishes. Daddy is a ways off, working.
My screams are useless, it seems.

I’m now in a nightmare where my voice means nothing and my body is out of control. If I turn my head I can see the flames leaping up my back, threatening to take my hair.

Just when it seems the fire has won, Daddy appears. He throws me to the ground and desperately tries to pull my dress off. But those beautiful layers are relentless.

Through my sobs I hear him cursing, shushing, and screaming in his own pain as the fire rides up his hands and arms.

Finally it’s done. The dress lays beneath Daddy’s stomping feet while he works to remove his own burning shirt.

While the fire’s gone, an invisible one still eats my skin. My back, my bottom, my legs–so excruciating I feel faint.

And Daddy’s strong hands. Shining, terrible, raw flesh. They sizzle like the ember that started it all.

This post was written in response to a writing prompt over at Mama’s Losin It. This incident did not happen to me, it happened to my Grandma. She told me this story many times and showed me the scars on her back from the horrible burn. She and my great-grandpa suffered 3rd degree burns and carried their scars for the rest of their lives. 
With each telling of this story, different details would emerge, but the ever-constant theme was the wonder of her dad’s heroic deed. The sheer amazement that he saved her and sacrificed his body never wore off for my grandma. 

Mama’s Losin’ It

15 thoughts on “Burn

  1. hilljean

    Are you kidding me? Oh my goodness, that is awful. How amazing that your sister did that. I’m sorry if I struck a painful chord with this story. You’ve really been through it, and I feel trite even saying that. Your sister is an amazing hero!

  2. hilljean

    He was quite the stud. I could never really fathom it as a child when she told me. Now I think I have a better understanding for what that must have been like.

  3. hilljean

    Snakes are the worst! I’m not sure which I’d rather suffer through…how about neither?

  4. robyn

    That’s a terrifying story, amazingly told. A similar thing happened to my aunt – an ember from a backyard fire lit her skirt, and she had the scars on her legs all her life. My grandmother had scars on her hands and arms from putting out the fire. You really brought the terror and the heroism to life – thanks for sharing.

  5. hilljean

    Wow. That was so well-written. Your poor grandmother. I’m of an age before pajamas were made from flame resistant material. This made me think of hearing how children’s pjs would catch on fire and they couldn’t get them off. Scary.

  6. hilljean

    What a beautifully told story. My family suffered from a fire that took three of my siblings when I was just a year old, and every time we talk about it, the same theme comes out: the sheer guts and love of of my family for each other. My one sister literally broke her hip shoving a dresser out of the way to get on to the second story porch. With that broken hip, she then went in and out of the flaming house more than once to drag us from the smoke, all the while holding me on her non-broken hip, before making us all jump or throwing us to the snow covered ground below. Sorry, can’t read about a fire without thinking about how lucky I am to be alive today, despite all the horrible things going on right now. Very moving and well written!

  7. Cher Ami Pannell

    Hillary, I too remember your grandmother telling this story and the resultant bond between her and her father was strong through more than 70 years of their lives. Extremely well written blog. Are your aspirations those of a published writer? You could do it. Cousin Cher

  8. hilljean

    Thank you! It was cool to sort of “get inside her head” for a few moments. Also a tad freaky :/

  9. hilljean

    Scary story. I can’t imagine how frightened she must have been. My grandmother had a scary story about a snake that she would always tell. I still have a snake phobia. I wrote a true story about fire, too, for Mama Kat; http://proartz.blogspot.com/2012/09/flamed.html

  10. hilljean

    Pajamas? Oh my word, that is so scary!!! I can’t think of anything worse than being the parent that put those on them.

  11. hilljean

    Wow!! LOVED your re-telling of this story! You had me on the edge my seat!


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