16: Dreamhouse

16: Dreamhouse

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: It's Christmas!


Thorough preparation makes its own luck.

~Joe Poyer

“Stacy, you’re going to love what Dad and I got you for Christmas,” my mom said with eager anticipation.

My ten-year-old heart filled with excitement and I counted the days until I could open the thing my parents had been alluding to for weeks. My parents weren’t known for picking exceptional gifts. In fact, my mom normally took me to the store to select my own presents.

“Mom, can you give me a clue?”

“Nope! You’ll just have to wait.”

I started daydreaming of the perfect present my parents conjured up for me. Visions of the Barbie Pink World 3-Story Dream Townhouse filled my head. I’d been asking for it for years, but my parents always dismissed that request. Were they finally going to get it for me?

“Barbie, just think. Pretty soon you’ll have a beautiful house to live in,” I said to my favorite doll. “No more pretending old Kleenex boxes are houses. Before you know it, you’ll have your very own home!” Barbie, Ken, and I celebrated its pending arrival.

The days dragged on, but finally it was Christmas Eve. My sister and I were allowed to open one present. I tore into the red paper, hoping I had picked the right one. Before I even got all the paper off, my fingers felt flannel. Pajamas. Bummer.

Presents tumbled out from under the tree Christmas morning. I eyed them all, trying to figure out which one held the coveted gift.

At long last, after the carpet was long lost under scraps of torn wrapping paper, only one present remained. “Here, Stacy,” my dad said. “You can open it now.” He handed me a rectangular package just slightly larger than a shoebox. Sorry, Barbie.

“Can you guess what it is?” my mom asked.

I tore into the Barbie wrapping paper, scraping my fingers on a cardboard box. I looked at it for clues, but only saw a picture of a fire extinguisher.

It wasn’t uncommon for my parents to wrap something in a box originally intended for another object, yet the huge grin on my dad’s face was cause for alarm. Slowly, I pried open the flap on the box... and pulled out the very thing pictured on the label. The prized present I’d heard about for weeks was a fire extinguisher? Confusion and disappointment flooded my face.

My parents beamed with pride.

“We always figured if there was a fire, you could get out your window, but after Mom got stuck in the window well when she was cleaning, we knew you needed something to keep you safe in your basement bedroom.” Months earlier, my mom had tried cleaning the window well, but in the process the pin slipped and locked the window shut. She tried pushing up the plastic bubble over the well, but the weight of the landscaping rocks outside weighed it down too much.

“Oh. Um, thanks.”

“Stacy, after breakfast we’ll go outside and practice using it,” my dad said.

“Uh, sure, Dad.”

And that’s exactly what we did. As my neighbor walked her new Christmas puppy, I practiced proper fire repelling techniques.

The fire extinguisher went behind my bedroom door, hidden from sight so I wouldn’t have to remember the anguish and disappointment it caused. It sat there for a few years, collecting dust. But one day while my parents were out of town, my best friend and I made sopapillas for Spanish class. As we dropped the batter into the pot of bubbling oil, flames erupted, stretching from the stove to ceiling. As the cabinet began smoking, I envisioned my parents returning to a pile of rubble. I knew I had to do something, but couldn’t remember how to fight an oil fire.

“Hang on,” I yelled as I ran downstairs. Flying back up the steps, I pulled the ring on the extinguisher and began spraying like a veteran firefighter. A yellow residue coated all the surfaces and the once-white ceiling was black, but the house was intact.

The present I least wanted was the very thing that saved us.

If I’d received Barbie’s Pink World 3-Story Dream Townhouse all those years ago instead of the fire extinguisher, it would have gone up in flames along with the rest of the house. I didn’t get the gift I wanted, but it was ultimately what I needed. If only fire extinguishers came in Barbie pink.

~Stacy Voss

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