My Childhood Flameout
When I was about four years old, I began my lifelong love affair with fire. I’m not a true arsonist, not yet. But, being a bright child, I figured out a way to play with fire and not get caught. I’d go in the bathroom, shut the door, and make sure it was locked. Then I would pull out one of the few sheets of newspapers I had snuck in. Taking one sheet and carefully making it into a tight, round ball, I would then set it in the middle of the water in the toilet. Since this was before the invention of room deodorizers, everyone with class kept a big box of matches in the bathroom in order to maintain an acceptable level of air pollution. One strike and the subsequent release of sulfur overcame any odor, no matter how awful, any human could produce. So, I would strike a match and carefully set the flame against the paper. I love the flash and the blaze that followed it. When I’d had enough of my little fire show, or the fire got a little too big, I’d simply flush and the problem was gone.
There came a day however, when I let the fire get a little too big. Frightened, I hit the flush handle and the toilet flushed, but not before our wooden toilet seat caught a big lick of fire. I was a calm child and easily figured out how to handle emergencies. I knew just what to do. I covered my face with both my hands and began to scream, long and loud. With the door locked, my family couldn’t get in and I ignored their desperate pleas. Finally, unable to wait any longer, my father pushed my family back away from the door with his big strong arms, took a short run, and kicked the door down on his first try. What he saw was a screaming child with her hands covering her face and a flaming toilet seat. My mother was sure that I had burned my face off and her screams joined mine. Using a towel, my father beat the fire out while my mother set about trying to pry my hands off my face. When she saw my smooth, unburned skin, she was so relieved she began to cry.
Later, it was time to come clean about what happened. I was an honest and truthful child who could be trusted, so my parents sat me down and asked me what happened. I looked them straight in their eyes and said that I had no idea why the toilet seat burst into flames and that I might be a candidate for sainthood or something like it in the Methodist church.
My wonderful family accepted my explanation and, shaking their heads, they resumed their normal day. One problem was left. In those days, we couldn’t afford to just go out and buy a new toilet seat. My father took the burned one off, sanded it, and painted it. Although I wanted everyone to forget about it, it was difficult when, as happened periodically, they sat down on the toilet seat and came back up with a splinter. My father was never very good at sanding.
Many years later, one Thanksgiving Day, as we sat about the table giving thanks, I said I was grateful that my family never figured out how I set the toilet seat on fire. This lead to a great deal of reminiscing and I told everyone the story. We all laughed together about it and I’ll always remember that moment.