A Near Disaster

Smoke, flames, and fire engines. Three things, when linked together, send a shiver up anyone’s spine. As the leaves turn brown and start to fall covering the ground like a mosaic and the autumn weather turns cold, those fortunate enough to have a working fireplace start hauling in their seasoned wood, cleaning the hearth and checking the chimney to make sure it’s clear. It’s time to light the fireplace for its warmth and ambience.

Always cautious, a dear neighbor followed her checklist of fireplace preparedness even taking it one step further by asking a local resident to check it out. “All is in working order”, he said while reminding her which way to slide the flue handle.

My neighbor was excited as she got things ready for her family who were coming to dinner that evening. The table was set with her best linen, china, silverware and glasses. The turkey was in the oven, the vegetables peeled and ready to be cooked and her guests’ ‘drinks of choice’ lined the counter. “I’ll get the fire going so all will be ready when my family arrives” she thought to herself. She opened the flue, placed paper under the logs as she has always done and lite the paper. Just then her brother and his wife walked in the front door. He sniffed the air smelling the faint scent of smoke. Disaster is a quick thinker and seldom hesitates when it strikes. Within seconds the house filled with smoke and fire started climbing up the chimney. Quickly, she grabbed a fire extinguisher and doused the flames while someone called 911. Within minutes, 3 fire trucks and a rescue vehicle with flashing lights and sirens appeared and took control. They checked the fireplace, opened all the windows and turned on their large fans to help disseminate the smoke. Within a half hour they were on their way back to the station.

Seeing the red flashing lights I went outside to check. I saw my neighbor and asked if everything was okay. Taking a deep breath, she said “No” and preceded to tell me the story. The rest of her family had arrived and were helping as much as they could after the firemen left. The turkey was minutes from being done and she was considering what to do. I offered to move the dinner party to my home however, everyone agreed they wanted to stay there. I turned to go home when, she asked me to join them for dinner. You see, that’s how she is, always looking out for other people  even in the middle of a near disaster. Never one to refuse a dinner invitation, I went home, changed, selected a couple bottles of wine and returned. What a delightful evening. We laughed, told family stories and solved the problems of the world all while getting to know each other. Spending time with her family, I soon came to realize where her compassion, intelligence and caring came from.

An evening that could have been a disaster turned into a delight. Yes, there’s a little smoke residue on the couch, a wall might need to be repainted and a lampshade vacuumed but these were countered with laughter, caring and the forging of new friendships.

Oh yes, why the fire? The instructions of the well-intending local – he said flue left when it should have been flue right. Sigh.

Growing Up Rich

I grew up rich – not wealthy. The difference? According to the dictionary, a wealthy person has sustainable wealth and will always be wealthy. Someone who is rich will only be so for a short period of time – until the money is gone. Well, if this definition holds true, then my family wasn’t rich – not by a long shot.

My Dad was a car salesman. He wasn’t the stereotypical kick the tire, sign here, and move onto the next customer type of salesman. He really cared about his customers and if he didn’t think you should buy the car you wanted he wouldn’t sell it to you. Some appreciated this and some didn’t…especially his boss! Dad was rich with integrity and honesty not money.

Our home was like grand central station with a revolving door. There were always one or two extra people seated at our dinner table whether they be friends, neighbors, Dad’s customers or someone just needing a hot meal. Some stayed for dinner while others stayed overnight. Not sure why they wanted to sleep over since the house was small with one bathroom and three matchbox bedrooms each with a closet that held, at maximum, five-hangers. A mattress pulled off the bed and placed on the floor served as the ‘guest’s’ ‘bedroom’ while the ‘bed’s owner’ slept on the box-spring. Not exactly the Ritz Carlton, Holiday Inn or even Motel 6 but a place people wanted to stay.

One of my college friends frequently asked to spend the weekend. I never knew why and never questioned it. During Christmas semester break one year, I received a call telling me to quick turn on the TV. There was my friend being introduced as one of the twelve international debutants for that year. She never told anyone that her family owned one of the largest companies in the world and they consistently appeared on the ‘millionaires’ list. When we returned to school after the break, she again, asked to spend the weekend. I laughed and said, “Of course, your mattress awaits you.” That evening as I lay on my box spring she looked up at me from her mattress on the floor and said, “Do you realize how rich you are?” I guess I looked surprised at this remark so she continued. “My family owns multiple houses. You live in a home. My parents are always jet-setting somewhere seldom knowing or, at least from my perspective, caring what I’m doing. Though at times it might bug you, your parents are interested in every aspect of your life. You sit down together for a home-cooked dinner. I can’t remember the last time we did that as a family. You’re the richest person I know.”

I learned that night that the true measure of ‘richness’ is in health, faith. love, family, friends and laughter and that I was truly living the wonderful life…just like George Bailey.