The heavy brocade living room curtains felt cool. I pulled one panel aside and slid between it and the window. This was like being invisible because no one could see me. I was neither inside the house, nor out in our dark, snowy winter yard. Out on the road in front of our house, a car slowly passed. I watched its headlights probe the silky, slippery snow and ice covered road. It went up the hill toward our neighbor’s place where it turned in.
My ‘window envelope’ hiding place was as cold as a refrigerator. Straining my eyes, I searched the sky for stars. There were none. Lacy ice crystals covered the glass nearest to the window ledge. I put a warm finger on what looked like a fern frond. A black melt-through spot appeared. Carefully, I proceeded to melt “K A”… my initials into Mother Nature’s work of art.
I loved evening-tide in our farmhouse, especially during the winter. The long hours of cozy darkness tucked itself into every corner and crack like a big, warm, wooly blanket. My home felt like a comfortable hibernation cave where I always felt safe. Unwelcome and unpleasant surprises that would upset my eight-year-old sensibilities belonged to a different world.
My evenings were filled with good things to eat, and fun things to do. We didn’t have a TV like my neighborhood cousins, but there was always a wide range of entertainment available to me none-the-less. I sometimes could choose between helping a brother crack black walnuts in the basement, or enjoy spooning out the last sweet traces of chocolate from a kettle in the kitchen after a sister made fudge.
It was almost a given that I’d find a sister doing homework or artwork in one of our upstairs bedrooms. At times I accidentally soaked up education through my visits. Once I learned about Camelot and music appreciation by listening to a sound track of the play. On another occasion I learned how to do collage artwork.
Slipping out from my hiding place, I blinked at the bright living room lights before leaning down to give Mom a kiss. She looked up from the magazine she was reading with a startled look and exclaimed, “Kathy! You’re cold as ice! Maybe you should put on a sweater.”
I just giggled. A pile of Dell comic books on the table next to our davenport caught my eye. Diving into it, I found one that I hadn’t read recently, and settled down on the linoleum in a chair-side puddle of lamplight. Turning the pages slowly, I began to enjoy its story-line picture by picture, and word by word.
Just as I finished reading about the comic antics of Scrooge, Donald, Huey, Dewey, and Louie, our entry door flew open. My brother Casper appeared in the living room archway. “Davel’s store is on fire!” he announced. “I was just in town with Jim and saw it for myself. It started in the basement and now it’s spread up into the main part of the building!”
A cold flash, colder than the winter air out in our yard, enveloped my body. Davel’s was like home! We bought most of our groceries there. Just the other day I was there with Daddy, and picked out a candy bar! ALL THE CANDY BARS! They had a large selection and in my imagination, pictured them burning…bubbling, turning black, and smelling bad. How awful!
My brother, the one closer to my age said, “Let’s go to town and see for ourselves!” I panicked. It was fun watching our household garbage burning…especially when things sizzled…but the thought of all the good things in the store burning, terrified me.
I wailed, “Noooooo…I’m scared! I don’t want to go near it!”
We parked on a side street well out of the way. By this time huge flames were leaping high into the black nighttime winter sky. Sparks danced on their tips, then floated down, ready to cause mischief elsewhere in town. Some in my family wanted to get closer to see more, but I cried and begged to stay where we were.
A couple of my brothers and sisters left, and when they came back, said, “Sparks started a fire on the roof of Gateway lumber next to the store, but the firemen got it out. It’s a good thing we had a heavy snow last Wednesday. If we hadn’t, everything close to the store would be on fire! You should see it, we heard cans of paint exploding!”
The next morning was Monday and school as usual. As I walked up the steps to my classroom, I talked to a school-chum that lived in town. She told me what she knew about the fire. I listened, and stared at her black and white saddle loafer shoes. My world felt very big, cold, and scary. It had felt that way ever since the night before…when all my candy bars burned.
A Historical Note: Davel’s, a 100×110 two-story brick structure burned on Sunday night, November 15, 1959. Besides a general store, it housed eleven apartments, the town’s post office, a bar and bowling alley, and the U.S. Soil Conservation Service office for eastern Marathon County. The building was one of the largest and most modern in Stratford. Loss was estimated to be over a quarter of a million dollars, but happily, there were no deaths or injuries.