32: Burning Questions

32: Burning Questions

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Dreams and the Unexplainable

Burning Questions

By failing to prepare, you are preparing to fail.

~Benjamin Franklin

My mother-in-law, Catharine, is a dreamer. Not the spacey, skipping-among-the-daisies type. She’s the type who dreams things, and then they happen.

So when she called one day several years ago and said she didn’t want me to be alarmed, but she’d had a dream that our house burned down, I was alarmed. She tried to assure me that we just needed to pray and trust God, but my faith wasn’t quite strong enough to withstand the rush of dread. I hung up the phone and started praying. I was determined to pray forever if I had to.

That lasted about a day.

It isn’t that I didn’t take her warning seriously. I knew better than to dismiss a warning dream given to Catharine. It’s just that I was busy — three little kids and a part-time job busy. Oh, and a husband, a dog, and a cat.

A couple weeks after the warning I was getting dinner started while the kids ran amok. Our four-year-old, Drew, came in asking for help with his shoes. The neighbor kids were out front, and he wanted to join the fun. I left the pot I was heating on the stove and went over to help him tie his shoes, bending down in a position where I could no longer see the stove. A few seconds later, Drew shouted, “Mommy, the stove is on fire!” Leaping up, I ran around the corner and saw that the oil I’d been heating in the pot had caught fire. What happened next is an epic tale of fire-safety ignorance.

Despite my limited understanding of household fires, I did realize I couldn’t put water on an oil fire. But that was the extent of my knowledge. Not knowing what I should do, I grabbed the handle of the pot and started spinning around, trying to decide where to deposit it. I considered the sink, but I knew water + oil + fire = bad.

I had to get that fiery pot out of the house. So I ran to the sliding glass door, scorching my hand in the process, and tossed the pot of flames onto the back patio. I know, I know. Rhodes Scholar move, right? And wouldn’t you just know but the darn thing bounced and landed on the dog’s bed. There was a moment of terror as I watched the flames spill out of the pot and onto the bed. Here comes the inferno, I thought. But the inferno never materialized. Apparently, some really smart person at the dog-bed manufacturer had chosen to make the bed out of non-flammable material. So rather than ignite like a beach bonfire, the bed simply melted, and the fire died.

I stood there shaking, holding my singed hand, feeling like a zero of a mom. Even worse, little Drew had witnessed the whole debacle. I can’t remember now what he said about how I managed the situation, but knowing him, it was probably something wise like, “You should have just removed it from the heat and put a lid on it,” or “Gee, Mommy, don’t you know that baking soda kills oil fires?” After all, Drew was on a first-name basis with the firefighters at Station 41, where he dragged me on a weekly basis, and he surely would have handled the fire correctly.

It was only later, after I’d calmed down enough to confess to my husband Andrew my shameful near miss, that Catharine’s dream came back to me. And, with it, the (also shameful) realization that I hadn’t been praying about it like I said I would. I called her up.

“So, remember that dream you had about our house burning down?” I asked. “Have you been praying about that?”

“Yes, I have,” she replied, calm as ever.

“Well, I think you might have saved our house.” I went on to tell her about my misadventure, and how I gave that fire about 1,600 different opportunities to set our home ablaze. I told her the whole humiliating affair, feeling there was no sense in trying to hide my stupidity from the one person who’d clearly had my back.

I also readily agreed the next time Drew badgered me to visit Fire Station 41. Apparently, I needed to ask those men a few questions.

~Barbara A. Owens

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