When I was about 12 years old, my mother and father decided they wanted a new house. They bought an acre of property in the forest, felled many of the big trees and set about clearing the brush. My mother designed the house herself, and she was a fan of the architecture of Frank Lloyd Wright. She wanted a fireplace exactly like the one in this picture. The house was quite lovely, and extremely ultramodern for its day. My father used to grumble that he couldn't actually sit on any of the furniture, but it looked nice -- identical to the furniture in this photograph. To his credit, he tolerated the furniture for about five years, and then he convinced my mother to buy furniture we could actually use. She relented, and we ended up with a much cozier home.
We moved into our new house just weeks before Christmas. My mother loved her new stove, and made all sorts of fabulous Christmas treats. The Christmas tree had a place of honor by the window, and my dad put Christmas lights on the roof and on some of the evergreen trees outdoors. It looked wonderful and festive. My two older brothers were living away from home at the time, but they were both expected home for Christmas.
On Christmas morning my mother made eggnog punch in her crystal punch bowl, and we all settled down to opening the gifts Santa had left us the night before. My father lit the fireplace, as was his custom every Christmas morning. As each gift was opened, we scrunched up the wrapping paper and threw it into the fireplace. It was a wonderful Christmas morning, with all of us together. Could it be more perfect?
Suddenly we were aware of fire trucks in the distance. Oh some poor family... The fire trucks got closer ... louder ... they stopped outside our house. Our roof was on fire, and the neighbors had called 911. My dad and my brothers rushed outside just in time to see the firemen dragging their hoses and ladders over to our roof, and fortunately the fire was put out before any damage had been done. My mother and I collapsed into heaps of laughter. My father glared at us,
"For cripes sake, what's wrong with you...? Our house almost burned down...!"
But we couldn't stop laughing. Sometimes living on the edge puts things into bas relief, and makes everything so much nicer. The relief of having been to the precipice and back creates a sweetness that perhaps might not have been there before. We almost lost our new house, but we didn't. The large black spot around the chimney was quickly repaired, and the roof was no worse for the wear. The neighbors who called 911 were invited for dinner and drinks a few days later. It was a great ice-breaker.
My mother spoke fondly many times of that Christmas as her favorite Christmas. It's certainly one we never forgot.