It was late winter. It was late enough in the evening for it to be dark outside, but not so late that my 2 older sisters and I were in bed yet. I was 4 years old. My mother was working on a project at the dining room table. My oldest sister was doing her homework at the kitchen table. My other older sister was in the corner bedroom that the three of us shared. My father wasn’t home.
I had just put my pajamas on and walked into the dining room to my Mom, turned around, and asked her to snap up the back of my “jammies”. Just as she started, a horrible series of explosions rocked the house. I fell over backwards and could hear myself and my sisters screaming. My mother immediately reacted and yelled, “Girls, the house is blowing up! Quick, get your coats and shoes and get out of the house!”
My sisters and I dutifully ran to the hall closet with our Mom close on our heels to make sure we got our coats and shoes on before leaving the house. (You may be wondering why anyone would insist on grabbing our coats when the house was exploding. If you are thinking this, I guarantee you have never spent a long, cold winter in Western Pennsylvania).
Anyway, as we were grabbing the appropriate outerwear, our mother looked back into the living room and said, with obvious relief in her voice, “Girls, girls. It’s OK, it’s just a car.” We looked back with her and, sure enough, you could see the blinking red tail lights of a huge green station wagon that had gone through our picture window right up to the stone fireplace!
Just then our neighbor showed up at our door. The poor man was hysterical and inconsolable. His family was with him, all equally upset. It was their car that had come crashing through our window. They had just come home from an evening out. He had parked the car in his driveway. He and his family (thankfully) got out. He opened his garage door, turned around to get back in his car and pull it into the garage, and the car was gone. Unfortunately, he forgot to put the car in park, nor did he engage the emergency brake. Oooops.
We lived at the top of a hill. Well, almost at the top. Our neighbors lived across the street and slightly above us. They watched in horror as their car rolled down their driveway, across the street, picked up speed and momentum to come crashing through our window. I can’t imagine what that experience was like for them. As upset and terrified as we were, it must have been even worse for them, wondering if anyone had the misfortune to be in the living room at the time. Had anyone been in there, they would not have survived.
Our Mom took us a few houses down where another neighbor looked after us. She comforted our neighbor and his family. She realized that as bad as the situation was, it could have been much worse. She knew she had a mess on her hands and that my Dad was in for a huge surprise when he got home. But her family was safe. I remember sitting next to one of our neighbor’s boys in front of their fireplace as he peeled an orange for me. Even though I had been through what could be considered a trauma, I knew all was well with the world. I was safe. I was in front of a warm fire, and I was eating an orange. The grownups were in charge. They would figure it out. And fix it.
There are several life lessons in this little story. First of all, even if your world is exploding around you, you still need to get your coat and shoes on to protect you from the elements. You made need them. Second, no matter how much you are suffering, someone else may be suffering more, and needs your reassurance and comfort. Third, it’s important to use your emergency brake. You never know when it may come in handy. Last of all, oranges in late winter is a luxury. Especially if your house just blew up.