I woke up this morning remembering my father’s workshop in my childhood home in Minoa. I have no idea what dream may have prompted such memories, so even as the memory surfaced, I was thinking, “Why the heck am I thinking about this?”
It was a greasy, tool-filled corner of our basement with two workbenches meeting in the corner of the cellar wall, much different than the wood shop in my grandfather’s basement, which was clean and bright and smelled deliciously of wood shavings. But my father worked on cars and small engines from his, so it was a completely different kind of “shop.” He had acetylene torches parked there as well, that he used to haul up the stairs under the Bilco door to work outside.
Those memories drifted and shifted, as memories do, into memories of THE FIRE. I was very small, maybe 5; it was summer, a Saturday, and my dad was working on one of the ever-present extra cars that graced our driveway. Mostly, the cars belonged to other people and my father (an auto mechanic in his spare time) took in some extra money that way. Or sometimes he would buy them outright, fix them up on the weekends, and sell them for a small profit. I liked to hang out with him when he was working on them, asking him questions (about anything and everything) and discussing the world as I was discovering it. This morning, the car was just another one of Dad’s cars, and he was under it on the automotive creeper. I chattered away to him, trusting that he was listening even though I could only see his legs protruding out from under the side of the car he was working on. Eventually I left him to his work and went off to find a friend to play with. There were lots of kids in our small neighborhood and there was always someone with which to hang out.
I don’t remember where I was when someone said my house was on fire; maybe in my friend Patty’s back yard or the Murphy’s side yard. I only remember that I looked to see the car, the car right next to our back door, the car that my father had been underneath a few minutes ago, engulfed in flames! Flames as high as the peak of our Cape Cod-style roof. Flames..! I dropped everything I was doing and ran toward home, looking desperately for my father.
Quite a crowd was gathering on the small hill next door and across the street. The fire engine had arrived. (Later I learned that my 2 older sisters had run down to the corner and pulled the fire alarm on the pole at the end of the street.) I saw my mother in the crowd near our house and went to her, asking where Dad was. She didn’t know.
It seemed like the whole town was there, watching the fire. I had never seen so many people together on our street. I walked around on the outskirts of the crowd unnoticed, searching with increasing anxiety for my father, and once in a while, if I saw someone I knew, I shyly asked if they had seen him. No one had seen him.
I was afraid he was still under the car, you see. I was afraid my father was dead, even though I did not voice that fear.
I watched helplessly with the crowd as the firemen trained their hoses on the flaming car, which was really just a huge ball of fire, completely engulfed and white-hot. There was activity on the other side of the front yard, too, that I could not see because the flames were too high and the smoke was very black. I was still searching the faces in the crowd for that one familiar face I did not see, quietly fearing the worst. The flames were beginning to extinguish, and we were looking at a charred and blackened car, still smoking in my driveway, but at least my house was safe (we were very lucky the gas tank hadn’t exploded).
And then, suddenly, my very heavy young heart lifted, because I saw him through the smoke, dirty and sweaty but safe and very much alive, standing in the crowd across the street from our house. My Dad. My Hero. I ran to him and hugged him around the waist, and he just put his arm around my shoulders and kept talking to whomever he was talking to, in that absent way that parents sometimes do with their children. At that moment he probably had no idea how frightened I had been (and I’m sure he had his own excitement to deal with, too), but just that casual embrace was reassuring, and I was able to return quickly to my happy, regulated self.
Later, in a quiet moment, I told him I had been afraid he was dead, and he said that it was indeed a very close call. It seems he was working with the torches and his attention was diverted for a second by something. He turned to glance and inadvertently ignited with the torch flame some oil that had seeped into the stones of the driveway under the car. He said when he realized what had happened, when he saw the stones burning, he knew that he had only seconds to get out of there before the car went up in flames.
It was an exciting day, a scary day, a traumatic day, one that lives vividly in my memory still (and in the memories of my sisters, too). I can still see the fire when I close my eyes; I can still feel the terror of that little girl as she grappled with the awareness that her father could be dead. I believe I first became aware at this tender young age that life is finite, and that the people I love could die. In catastrophic fashion, I was shown that in a heartbeat, in the blink of an eye, my father could be taken away and my life could be altered irrevocably. And so, at this moment, the naivety of childhood began to erode slowly, irreversibly, like an imperceptible crack that gradually widens and eventually becomes noticeable.
I had a soul retrieval yesterday (yes, the healer sometimes needs her own healing), so I am not surprised that some traumatic childhood memories are surfacing today. It happens in the days following and is often part of the soul retrieval healing. One soul part came back bringing the gifts of “rainbows and sweetness” that Spirit said I had lost at an early age. I suspect this may be the place where I set this soul part aside, to remain safely enfolded and hidden away as the rest of me went on to stoically face the difficult and inevitable lessons of the future.
But I have to say, I love me some rainbows! And I’m ready for you, sweetness! Welcome home, and thank you.
© – 2022, C.L. McGinley