Alexandra Earle

Up in Flames

When my father was a child, he lived in many different places. He was the oldest of five children, two sisters and two brothers. At around 11 years old, he and his family lived in Cape Breton, Nova Scotia. There, they owned many acres of land as well as a large wooden barn. The shabby, rundown shack was the home of the boys’ fun and imagination. The brothers were once pirates, sailing their ship all over the world, hoarding loot behind bales of hay. Late one night, the boys had snuck out to the barn to strategize their rebellion from the British Army. But before that, they had to free the Indians they were holding hostage there. The barn was as big as their imagination.

One day in the summer of 1964, my father’s mother had gone into town with his two sisters, Isabella and Carmela. My father and his two brothers, Urban and Martin, were playing with their neighbors Tommy and Bobby. Tommy and Bart, my father, were the oldest; they were 11-years old. Bobby and Urban were 9-years old, and Martin was the youngest. He was only 7-years old. Bored, the boys were sitting silently in the warm, sticky kitchen. Robin Hood, their favorite TV show, would not be on for another few hours. Suddenly, Bart broke the silence.

“Hey guys, you know how Mum and Pop are always accidentally dropping matches behind the space heater?” my father exclaimed, sitting up.

“Yeah,” the others replied uncertainly.

“Well! What if we got those matches out from under the heater? We could light little fires in the barn and pretend we are at war!” Bart was now bouncing in his chair.

With that, the boys fished their hands under the heater. Matches in hand, they galloped to the barn, laughing and shouting.

“Bart! Wait! Bart!” cried Martin, the youngest. “What if the fire eats up Mr. Squeakers?” My father looked down at his little wide-eyed brother clutching his 2-foot tall teddy bear.

 “Go put Mr. Squeakers in one of the empty animal stalls. That way he’ll still be near you, but won’t get blown up,” my father suggested. “We won’t start without you.” Martin dashed to the nearest stall and propped his bear against a pillow of hay. Tommy then lit the first match.

The hay caught fire and roared to life. The boys gave a cheer, ducking behind barrels of hay, pretending to shoot each other. Laughter and high spirits filled the air. As the fire grew more intense, Urban and Bobby raced to the nearby stream with an empty bucket. Two minutes later, they came running back, water sloshing over the sides of the pail. With a great heave, the two boys managed to douse the fire.

The blazing fire sizzled and sunk, sucking the lively buzz with it. The boys watched the black tail of smoke float up to the rafters. A new silence filled the air like an alien intruder.

Without warning, Urban grabbed the next match and lit it. He threw it into the haystacks and at once, it burst into flames like an exploding orange balloon. The fire glowed, casting dancing shadows on the walls. Once more, the boys dove back into action like five wild baboons. As soon as the fire amplified, Urban and Bobby rushed out the door with the empty bucket. Within two minutes they came back lugging the bucket, a trail of water following them. With a thrust, they smothered the frantic flames. The water slowly eased the flames to a rest, along with their animated spirits. With the fire put out, the boys wandered to Tommy and Bobby’s house to watch Robin Hood.

After a few thrown pillows, the boys finally settled down in the den. Just as the show was about to begin, Mrs. Clannon, Tommy and Bobby’s mother, burst through the door, shrieking. “Quick! Quick! The barn! It’s burning! Get him out! Get him out!”

“What are you talking about? Nobody’s in the barn anymore,” Bobby answers.

She stopped flailing her arms and counted the boys. “One, two, three, four, five! Oh thank goodness!” she let out a sigh. “But the barn! The barn is still burning! Tommy, call the volunteer fire department quick!”

Tommy ran to the kitchen as the others tore outside.

Reaching the barn, the boys stared up, wide eyed. At that moment, a wall of flames swiftly swallowed the ancient barn from top to bottom. The roar of the flames was louder than fifty incoming helicopters. When the volunteer firefighters finally arrived, most of the barn was destroyed. Realizing that it wasn’t worth the effort, the firefighters just watched the old building burn down. People from all over town came over to gawk at the fire as it devoured its victim. Within minutes, the fire had shrunk down to a mound of smoky charred wood. Everyone left, leaving the boys alone to wait for their mother.

She arrived screaming, “What the bloody hell happened?”

“Mum, we were just having fun! We thought we had put the fires out! Honestly!” my father protested.

“You thought you put the fires out? You THOUGHT you put the fires out! And how did you do that?”

“We took the water from the stream and poured a bucket of water all over the hay!” Urban insisted.

“You cannot put out 15-year old hay with one bucket of water!” screeched their mother. “Don’t expect to get the bows and arrows I bought you in town! Now get out of my sight!” Like a raging bull, she stormed into the house.

Shaking, the boys went to poke around the burnt ashes. Rummaging through the burnt wood, my father noticed something silver. Picking it up, he saw what it was. It was the squeaker of Martin’s teddy bear, the only thing that had survived the fire. It was the only proof of that one summer day in 1964. All the rest relied on memories.




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