The fire had burned out and had quite likely gone completely cold by the time I was awoken.
My mother’s light touch on my back, her whispers in my ear in the dark of my bedroom coaxed me from my dreams. She wasn’t herself as she helped me to put my coat on over my pajamas, gently, but absentmindedly, threading my arms through the sleeves.
Her whispers, “going to your aunt’s house…choose a toy to bring with you…”
I chose my new silver baton, with the white rubber tips, such a random thing to remember all these years later.
It was just before Christmas.
The bitter cold pierced through my coat and the snow swirled about our heads as my mother carried me to the car.
The drive was a blur, but when we arrived at my aunt’s house, I was elated to see my cousins. This visit was a gift, an unexpected sleepover. We all piled into my aunt’s bed and snuggled and whispered until sleep overtook us.
When we woke to the white Maine winter sunlight, streaming through the gap where the heavy curtains didn’t quite meet, my mother and her sister sat on the bed and told us that our grandfather had died the previous evening.
In a fire.
My magical, glorious, Pépère was dead.
No warning, no goodbyes, no chance for final I love yous.
It was late. My pépère packed logs into his wood stove, with bits of kindling and newspaper to help the fire catch, leaving the door ajar for precious oxygen to help feed the fire. He lay on the couch for just a moment and dozed off. When he woke, his living room was on fire and he couldn’t get to the front door, as that part of the living room was ablaze.
He tried to make his escape out the back door, but it was blocked.
He had hired a neighborhood boy the previous autumn to help him stack his firewood by the back door. When the boy stacked it, he blocked the door just enough that my grandfather was trapped.
My magnificent grandfather had no means of escape from his burning home.
The logical and controlling part of my brain always goes back to the little details. How did he not notice that the door was blocked when he checked the boy’s work? How could he have thought it okay to lie down and close his eyes, even for just a small moment?
But the answers don’t matter…they can’t change what happened.
Though I was all too familiar with the void left by loss, I had never felt that acute pain, that immediate and tremendous loss. Death was no longer represented by a dull ache.*
In an evening and in an instant, my pépère was gone.
This post was inspired by a prompt from The Red Dress Club, a photo of a Christmas ornament not unlike those on my pépère’s Christmas tree.