That was the plan and boy did I get more than I bargained for.
My new beau and I had gone up north to my country home for a weekend of cross-country skiing etcetera with the emphasis on the etc. Sunday afternoon, March 4, 1988 found us relaxing in the living-room in our pj’s, fire roaring, glass of wine in hand. Mid-p.m., I decided it was time to make dinner. As I walked to the kitchen I smelt smoke. I looked up the ceiling and saw flames seeping through the ceiling tiles. I screamed. Rejean opened the door behind the fireplace. The back wall was in flames. Grad your coat and purse he said and let’s get out of here. Is there anything you want to save? The photo album I panted (we had been looking at it only the weekend before). Where is it? I couldn’t remember if I had left it downstairs or in the upstairs bedroom. Forget it, Rejean exclaimed. We grabbed the skis that were in the country kitchen and threw them in the snowbank outside the door. I grabbed the wall phone and alerted the fire department who were a 1/2-hour drive away.
We waded in snow up to our waists to our car parked at the bottom of the hill. Our neighbours answered our frantic knock on the door. My house is on fire I screamed to Fred. He shook his head as if to say nothing could be done. I looked back to the top of the hill only to see my family’s home afire, flames shooting up beyond the tall evergreen treetops. That image in indelibly etched in my memory.
Fred’s wife Catherine gave me a coke glass full of cognac to drink. You see, this was the third hard event I had to swallow. In January my Mom had died, in February my Dad had been placed in a hospice for his Alzheimer’s disease and now this, one month later. When I awoke in the middle of the night in their cottage, with the worst headache in the world, Catherine gave me a toast to eat. I gagged as it stuck in my closed throat. That’s what shock will do to you. The fire department did all they could, drawing water from the lake but the old wooden house just burnt to the ground. According to Rejean — I couldn’t bear to see — all that was left standing was the chimney with a big crack in it. No doubt that is the reason my Dad on his prior visits with his friend had only lit the wood-burning stove in the kitchen. Dad probably knew the chimney wasn’t safe but with his cognitive impairment he was unable to warn me of the danger.
Rejean and I made our way back to Montreal, the sun shining in through the car window but my arm was covered in goosebumps. At his home, friends awaited us, but all I could do was head up to our bedroom to envelop myself in the comfort of the waterbed.
Friends tried to console me saying it could have been worse. Yes, it could have been. We could have been asleep and burned to death. Or heaven forbid, one escape and the other not.
Nevertheless, it’s not the material things I lost that matter; it’s the photo album, the old movies from my childhood that are irreplaceable. These are things that I miss.
The silver lining in the cloud is that thankfully Mom never knew of our loss and Dad, well he was too far gone for me to have to tell him.