What I learned when I burned down my Christmas tree

By The Columbia Chronicle

Every year at this time people reminisce about their favorite holiday moment. They talk about the best present they ever received, be it a Barbie doll or a Tonka truck or even a new best friend – a puppy. Some tell stories about doing a particular service or spending time with long-lost relatives that made for a special holiday. Others speak of the time of year itself: walking on the newly fallen snow, making snow angels, or ice skating.

Yet for yours truly, this time of year involves the re-telling of what is today a classic family tale of childhood naughtiness. I mean, haven’t we all at one time or another burned down our Christmas tree? ‘Twas the week before Christmas and all through the house, three creatures were stirring, wielding flaming candles each. My sister had left them (the candles), right next to the stove, neglecting to remind us to “just say no.”

Okay, that’s the extent of my poetic talent. Basically, I was four years old, my co-conspirators three and five. My two eldest brothers were in charge of watching us as my parents and other siblings went for some last-minute Christmas shopping. Kevin just watched some television in the family room while Steve was upstairs studying.

As mentioned, my sister had left some candles behind, choosing flashlights instead for caroling because it was windy. Well, the temptation was too great for me and my brothers, Mark and Mike. Thanks in part to a box of matches also left on the counter, we were able to light the candles. We wandered around our house in the dark, staying away from the family room with only the glow of the candles as our guide. We were playing some kind of detective game, if I remember correctly, looking around the different rooms for clues or something.

Suddenly, Kevin came out of the family room, presumably for a snack or a refill on his drink, and stumbled upon our game. He quickly reprimanded us, telling us that we were all in big trouble. He yelled at us for over ten minutes not to play with fire.

He took the burning candles from our hands, blew them out and put them on the top of the refrigerator. He also put the matches in his pocket. Once our parents arrived home, we knew that we were in big trouble.

Dad was sure to give us “the belt.” After his verbal tongue-lashing, Kevin returned to his television show, leaving us to think about what we had done, as well as the fear of impending pain from our father. Well, call me rebellious or even stupid, but I wanted to finish the game. I didn’t care about the cost. So I talked my brothers into retrieving the candles (using our dining room chairs to climb) while I devised a way to light them. The answer was right in front of me in our kitchen – the gas stove! I had seen my mom use it numerous times by turning on those knob things. I thought I was so clever.

With the help of our stove, we were at it again. Only this time we decided to go on the other side of the house, away from my brother, where we had our Christmas tree positioned that year. The game continued until I passed the tree and noticed something – the first present of the season! Forgetting the game, I just wanted to know who it was for.

So, I leaned over to read the tag. As my body curved toward the tree, I went to use the candlelight to read by, when suddenly my hand touched a branch. Oops! In a matter of seconds, the tree was engulfed in flames. My two playmates ran to my side, quickly extinguishing their candles and panicking. As the flames grew larger and larger, somehow I convinced them not to tell on me! I told them that I would take care of it and to go into the family room and pretend nothing was wrong.

They did it! I watched them run into the family room, sliding head first like Pete Rose right in front of the television and laying there with their chins in their palms as if they had been there all evening. Their faces were aglow, illuminated by the T.V. As opposed to my face, which was aglow by the flames three feet away.

By the time I turned around, this fire was out of control. I mean, we’re talking curtains, wallpaper and furniture all ablaze. There I am, three feet tall, using all of my breath to blow out this raging inferno! That was my plan to control the situation – I’ll just blow it out, like candles on a birthday cake.

Now, remember that I was only four years old at the time so when my insane solution to this problem didn’t work, I did what I thought to be the most rational thing I could do. I ran into the family room and joined my brothers in watching what was on T.V. I figured the whole fire mess would just go away.

It didn’t. Smoke billowed into the room and caught my brother’s attention. As he ran toward the fire, I ran to hide under the dining room table with my blanket. Okay, it’s not exactly the right thing to do, but I was really scared. Remember, I only thought that I was clever, I didn’t say that I was. It took them about 10 minutes to find me. Kevin got Steve from upstairs and they attempted to put the fire out to no avail.

Neighbors came to the rescue by calling the fire department and getting us all out. Incidentally, the only reason the neighbor spotted the fire was because he thought it was some type of unique Christmas lighting display, which I guess it was. Damage to the house was minimal, only the room that contained the Christmas tree was ruined and there was a little smoke damage elsewhere, but thankfully nothing else. The three of us weren’t really punished.

I like to think that it was a combination of no one being injured and because it was Christmas season that saved our backsides. Maybe Santa had something to do with it also; either way I wasn’t complaining.

So, that’s my story again. I am sure I will tell it again and again for years to come. That’s the beauty of coming from a large family, they never let you forget. It’s a strange tradition to tell the truth, but I don’t mind it too much. After all, in a way telling the story is just another way of spreading holiday cheer. And isn’t that what this time of year is all about?