I had a fire today, just burning the yard’s debris, and I started thinking about my relationship with fire, and when it began. As a glassblower, you face any fear of it near the 2000+ degree furnace and the glass, like molten lava. It’s empowering to overcome it.
My mother had a ceramic Jesus in her bedroom that looked like an over-sized baby in a baptismal outfit.
It had the same cherubic face that the plastic baby Jesus in our light up nativity displayed on the porch at Christmas. I left a cupcake on the plastic baby Jesus’s belly every Christmas eve to celebrate his birthday, and it always had chocolate frosting hastily smeared on his little plastic Jesus lips come morning. This thrilled me! Not because I thought that plastic baby Jesus (that lit up with a tiny light bulb stuffed into the back of that hollow deity body) had eaten the treat. Nor that I thought the baby Jesus would be such a messy eater. But because my parents actually thought I did.
So this huge ceramic baptismal man-baby statue of Jesus stood among candles and rosary beads atop my mother’s Hope Chest. It was in her and my dad’s bedroom, between the bathroom and their Old Spice and Avon smelling closet, dad’s side the left, mom’s right.
The hope chest was an important must-have piece of furniture for every new bride to store items worth remembering and preserving, from a life well lived and the family she raises, and someday, would be mine. It turns out it became mine when she didn’t want her memories anymore, which was a hassle because I was still in college, lived in a truck and had nothing and nowhere, but I managed to keep it. It is currently being used as a table/bench in my ex’s living room and is chuck full of hope and Halloween and miscellaneous costumes of the 70’s and 80’s, baby shoes and baptismal outfits, X 3.
When I was a child, she would kneel and pray in front of this ceramic Jesus, and would make me do the same, sometimes for hours if I was especially bad or I made her do especially bad things to punish me. This was her confessional sacred space in which she would assign me Hail Mary’s and Our Fathers in multiples of ten to repent.
Just like church, but not, because this method aired the dirty laundry of our mistakes and its consequences without the embarrassing over-share.
My mother had a way of accentuating hard lessons she taught in painful or dangerous ways under the guise of teaching an important lesson. Paternal license to cause traumatic stress, unduly, to drive a point. The lesson this day on top of already having to repent one offense or another, was to learn how to light a match and the candles myself. I was five years old and I kept asking, and asking to be able to light the candles. And she was just angry enough, that day, to do so. She handed me the matchbook and said “..sure, here, you do it”. She did not explain how, but I had seen her do it lots of times and remember assuming it couldn’t be that hard.
So I happily tore a match free and excitedly struck it.
I did not know what fire was and had no clue of the concept, really. All I knew was the candles, in her room, and at church, were lit by matches, and that is a good and exciting thing!After I struck it and held that match to the wick, I took a second to delay and realize the smell (like pork cooked on an open fire) and that terrible sensation, was the flame burning my fingers!
I dropped the match horrified and in terrible pain! Crying, my fingers throbbing, I looked up at my mother, and she looked smug. I did not know that expression at the time, of course, but came to know it each time she cruelly taught me a lesson, out of love and concern for my safety.
This was my hard lesson of fire, and the love/hate of it that followed. It hurt so bad. This may be when I started to realize life was pretty scary, and burns, so unnerving and so painful, were less so in comparison.