When I was not quite five years old, we had a house fire. My brother and I were in our grandma’s bedroom watching the Super Friends on Saturday morning. Our grandmother was out getting her hair done. There we were on the floor, cheering on Aquaman and Wonder Woman, our backs propped against the foot of the bed, as the room slowly-slowly filled with smoke. My grandmother had these funky electric baseboard heaters, and sometimes, they smoked a little and smelled funny when they first came on. So we kept watching TV, oblivious, like lobsters slowly coming to a boil. My mom came in to check on us, saw that the smoke seemed to be coming from the bed, frantically shooed us away, and yanked it from the wall. Flames leapt up. The bedspread had been against the baseboard heater and had caught on fire. The bed and wall were engulfed, just like that. What I remember most was how fast the fire moved. And how thick the smoke got, how quick.
The fire trucks couldn’t get up our long, narrow driveway so the VFD guys ran hoses. My brother and I were whisked off to a neighbor’s, coats and boots over our pajamas. My grandmother was reached at the hairdresser’s and hurried home. They got the fire out, but my grandmother’s room was destroyed and the entire house had to be gutted because of smoke and water damage. Everything we owned was gone.
This is supposed to be a story about fire, so I suppose I could tell you about how for years I was terrified of it, sure my house would burn down in the night. I staged elaborate fire drills in my head, and made sure I always knew where the nearest escape was. But instead, what I want to tell you about is a little stuffed lamb.
See, I had this favorite stuffed toy, a little white lamb with a pink flower stitched near her ear. I loved that lamb. Lamby, I called her. (And my bear was Teddy… not very original in the naming department, I know…) Lamby and my other toys were ruined and I never saw them again. Sure, we got new things. I got to pick a whole new wardrobe. And new tulip wallpaper for my bedroom. But Lamby was gone.
Fast forward six months or so to kindergarten where I met an elfish little girl with blond hair I was drawn to immediately. Her name was Lynn, and she was destined to become my very best friend from kindergarten through high school. She was the sister I always secretly longed for, my co-conspirer, my confidante. But here’s the kicker… the first time I went to her house, she took me up to her bedroom. And who did I see there on her bed, all cleaned up and white as could be? Lamby!!!! I recognized her immediately, little pink flower and all. I picked her up and sniffed her. She still smelled like smoke. It turned out Lynn’s dad was a volunteer fireman and when they were cleaning up after the fire, he took a few of the smoky, waterlogged animals home thinking he’d throw them in the washer, see if they cleaned up well enough for his kids. Lynn happily gave Lamby back when she heard that I was the kid whose house burned. It was a miracle! Well, maybe not a miracle exactly, but my first cosmic coincidence. I’ve been a big believer in them ever since.