“When the barn catches fire, I am wearing the wrong negligee…” Maxine Kumin (from her poem The Longing to be saved.)
My mother’s first fire was not on the farm where she was growing up, but the dorm of her school. She didn’t want to go away to this school, but her parents were sending her older brother Ron because it was an Ag School (meaning it finished the courses early in the year so the students could go back to work on their family farms.) It was less than an hour away by car, but with no phones, no form of communication whatsoever, the distance felt unbearable.
Of course the fire started at the beginning of the week, not long after she was dropped off. There would be no contact with her parents until the end of the week when they came to pick her up. Forced to run from the burning dormitory, to save herself, she had to leave everything behind. She stood outside in her pajamas as the flames lit the northern sky. The neighboring dorm was saved. She was able to borrow clothes during the week from another reluctant farm girl. Returning them to her lender Friday afternoon, she stood at the school’s entrance in her pajamas, waiting for her mother.
Not many words were exchanged in that long car ride home. But she was allowed to go back to her high school in town the next year.
It wasn’t her last fire. Literally or figuratively. Through the years she would be asked to run from life’s flames and save herself. To save me. And she did it, never out of fashion.
She loved poetry. She would have loved this poem. I wish I could have found it sooner. We would have read it together. Word by word. Over and over. Laughing. Crying. Saving each other. Again and again.
I miss her. So much. Some days the embers feel too close as I stand “barefoot and pajamaed.” But then a sweet memory appears, of joy, of laughter, of love, and I feel her car pull up into heart’s view. And I am saved.
Let’s get dressed for the day!