By David Anderson
Just nights before Christmas, the tree, newly decorated, had not only presents beneath but also four little children, all wrapped in blankets, snuggled together for warmth as the fire in the hearth died to embers.
It was the fourth child, our son Matthew, who saved our lives.
Unable to contain their childhood excitement of all that surrounds this most wonderful time of the year, the three little girls crawled out of their beds upstairs and, dragging dolls behind, thumped-thumped-thumped their way down the wooden staircase to where the tree twinkled by the fire. Not too thrilled with the prospect of joining them as the only brother – but then faced with the alternative of being left all alone a way upstairs – Matthew, beloved and bedraggled teddy bear and blanket in hand, found his spot near the tree.
Sometime, during the very early morning, Matthew woke up coughing. With a bit of asthma, Matthew was having difficulty breathing – exacerbated by something heavy and unidentified hanging in the air. Hearing sounds in the kitchen, and sleep-induced foggily thinking mom must be up baking, Matthew headed toward the sound and pushed open the swinging kitchen door.
The sounds emanating from the kitchen were not the clinking of pots and pans but of pictures – family pictures – melting and crashing to the floor.
The kitchen was on fire.
Suddenly awake from our small son’s cry of alarm and sitting up in bed I too now could not breathe, the death-level of smoke already having stealthily, silently, crept down the stairs to settle, lower and lower, upon the unsuspecting family.
Shouting to the wife to gather the children and count noses outside, I returned – foolishly – to fight the flames only to realize quite quickly that the fire’s intensity in just the seconds of time for the family to escape was now far beyond the reach of my feeble, flailing blanket. Flames roiled up the wall and across the ceiling with a roar like the sound of a high-speed train when crouching a mere few feet away.
Crawling now on hands and knees across the living room and passing by the door leading upstairs, I heard a cry somewhere up that stairwell – exactly like the heart-wrenching pleading of a little girl.
“How many?” I shouted to my wife from the front door as she and the children huddled close from the pre-dawn cold.
“Five!’ came the answer. “We’re all here!”
I turned and hollered back into the blast furnace that had become our home “Here kitty, kitty! Please come kitty, kitty!”
And she did. The saddest-looking, singed-tail drooping, used-to-be-striped-yellow-but-
That night, just days before Christmas, we stood together in the darkness, pajamas and teddy bear, all that we had. We lost everything. The nativity on the hearth would later be found a bit of a shapeless mass. But we had one another.
“We’re all here,” at Christmas, is an unspeakable joy, a gift of a priceless kind.