‘Twas the night before Christmas many moons ago and on top of the coffee table, not an object was stirring except for a wildly flickering jelly candle… and next to the flickering jelly candle rested an artificial flower arrangement. As the flame turbulently twittered in every which direction, my family lounged, reveling in each other’s company and the holiday spirit. I had assumed my official holiday position, sprawled by myself across the loveseat which visibly bore the punishment of years of insubordination to my mother’s injunction against “plopping”. My parents shared the couch, and my brother and sister each occupied a comfy white armchair. We were engaged in some edifying holiday family togetherness… I think we were reading Dickens or eating plum pudding or (most likely) reciting Christmas Vacation lines to each other when the small undulating blaze emanating from the jelly candle licked the very tip of the lowest fabric leaf of the artificial flower arrangement.
Initially, no one noticed the dueling flames dancing atop the coffee table, but after a few moments, my sister pointed at the six-inch conflagration in the middle of the living room and sputtered, “F-- f--f--.” Try as she might, she could not get “ire” to follow the “f”.
“What is it, honey?” my dad asked.
“F--f--f--,” she stammered, still pointing.
I injected myself into the conversation. “Um, Dad… the flowers are on f-“
I did not stutter. Before the “ire” could pass over my tongue and through my lips, my dad had jumped to his feet and yelled, “FIRE!!!” He immediately transitioned from holiday to survival mode, leapt from the couch and, in one heroic sweep, scooped the burning arrangement into his hands.
The fireplace was four feet away.
Unfortunately, he did not deposit the fire into the fireplace.
The front door, leading to our snow-covered front walkway was six feet away.
Unfortunately, he did not pitch the miniature inferno through the front door to our snow-covered walkway.
Instead, Dad ran. His goal had been to run through the living room, through the dining room, through the kitchen, and through the garage to the driveway wherein he would drop the burning flowers, compose himself, and determine his next course of action.
Unfortunately, his scheme did not go as planned.
As he ran, the flames spread across the surface of the decoration in his hand. He attempted to blow them out but his breath only encouraged the fiery expansion. He made it to the cusp of the kitchen when the flames began to burn his hands, at which point Dad’s Plan B took effect.
Plan B was to dropkick the plant the length of the kitchen to the garage door… and… actually, that’s where Plan B ended. There was no clear exit strategy. Which did not matter, because what seemed to Dad at the time of its inception an infallible course of action turned out to be quite fallible after all.
Arms outstretched toward the garage door, Dad held the glowing orb of flames before his face and dropped it like a punter preparing to send a football flying down the field. He kicked the basket. Instead of catapulting forward (the typical result of having been kicked in a forwardly direction) the basket wobbled up and over and behind his head, barely missing his hair. It landed five feet behind Dad, still in the living room, the flames now two or three feet high.
The smoke alarm finally recognized the potential disaster under its nose and began warning us of impending doom, when Plan C took effect. My sister, finally breaking free of her “F-- f-- f--” paralysis, yelled, “Fire! I’ll go get some water!” She ran to the kitchen, filled a Dixie cup with water, returned to the fire, splashed the water on a Dixie cup-sized satellite flame about eight inches from the main flame (which, thanks to Sister, was almost extinguished), then repeated as necessary, incrementally diminishing the magnitude of our indoor brush fire. Roused from our Christmas perches, Little Bro and I stood by watching, helpful only in the respect that we were not making the problem any worse. Dad stood by with his hands on his head. Black smoke began to fill the living room.
Where, you might ask, was my mother during these escapades? She was nowhere to be seen. We all assumed that she had grabbed her most precious possessions and hit the road, leaving us to fend for ourselves. Turns out, we were wrong: she was readying Plan D. She coolly returned to the room with an old blanket and draped it over the former faux flower arrangement and extinguished the fire by smothering it.
In the midst of the black intoxicating smoke and shrill detector siren, my dad fell to his knees in despair in the aftermath of our Griswoldesque holiday disaster. Before him was an incinerated patch of once white carpet and the remains of his favorite fake flowers. The living room furniture was subsequently rearranged to hide what resembled the last vestiges of an (sub)atomic disaster. Since this nightmare before Christmas, my family has traded their air freshening candles for fragrance oils, and “fire” is a four-letter word around the holidays.
For other death-defying fiery posts, click here or here.