Patrick Daems | In Retrospect: A Fire Story

Letters to the Editor
Letters to the Editor

“It’s hard to really tell what’s going on, isn’t it?” I said. “Should we start preparing to leave or what? They never give a complete picture, literally a map, showing where the fire is, how it’s moved and where it’s likely to go. All we see are spectacular shots of smoke and flames, and especially of that one house that burned down last night. They’ve shown that at least eight times so far since I switched on the TV.” 

“You know, they probably don’t know themselves what’s really going on because they are not getting the info from the Fire Department.” Joan tried to calm me down as she’s wont to do. “As long as we think the people in charge know their business and that they’re making the best decisions given the circumstances, what’s the use of getting excited?”

Then the phone rings and it’s our daughter Jennifer, so Joan picks up. “Hi,” she says, “how’s it going at your end? Here all quiet. Mmmm … mmm … mmm, what? When? Sure, come on down; you know we’re always glad when you’re here. What? Oh, your friend Alicia. How many in her family? Four, so four plus four makes eight. Sure … we have room, you know that. And what … ?” 

And I see Joan’s eyes getting bigger. “Oh good, don’t worry. One cousin added; that’ll make nine.” 

And then it’s silent again. Joan hasn’t put the phone down, is still listening. Then she says, “Thirteen should fit. Let me know if they all like spaghetti with tomato sauce, will you.” 

And then she hangs up. “Jennifer is four, Alicia’s family is another four. And she’s got a cousin from France who’s visiting, with four young kids. They’re coming too. Thirteen in total are coming. They ’re being evacuated. We’ll have to be creative with the sleeping arrangements. How many inflatable mattresses do we have?”

As they come walking in, some with a pillow, others with a roll-on suitcase, the house fills up, gets to be very cozy. We eat in shifts. The kids are put to bed by 10. The adults are given a glass of something to sip from, helps us to calm down. We’re watching the TV coverage, which continues to be confusing and at the same time alarming. They promised a 9:30 p.m. status report, which never shows up. Around 11, I switch it off, so we can change the conversation, and get to know our guests. By midnight everyone’s in bed, or on a mattress, or a couch. 

The next day we say goodbye to the cousin from France. He’s originally from Spain and his name is Nacho. He wants to get an early start as the plan is to race through Yosemite and Sequoia before catching a plane in San Francisco two days from today to get back home. Crazy European tourists, I think! 

“Thank you,” Nacho says. 

My eldest son, who usually doesn’t say much, told me this morning how much Nacho enjoyed this fire episode, the accommodation and our spontaneous hospitality. “This made our vacation,” he said, wait ’til I tell my friends. I’m grateful too, of course. Don’t know how to thank you enough. Anytime you’re in or close to Lyon, please look us up. No fire excuse necessary; just drop by.”

After they’re all gone, I say: “You know, Sweetheart, there is always a silver lining. A boy is going home with a great fire story. And now we know for sure that buying a bigger house was not such a bad idea after all.” 

“Are you booking the tickets to France?” she asks.

Patrick Daems

Stevenson Ranch

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