IN MEMORY'S PEAL
(This is a true story, culled from my memories of one of the most terrifying days from my childhood that I can recall)
To this day there are times when the sound
of a church bell pealing can remind me
of the day my eight year old brother
set himself on fire.
Accidentally, of course;
he was only eight after all
and his curiosity got the best of him.
The irony is, it happened the day before Mother's Day
and my mother is the one who probably saved his life.
Why the sound of a church bell?
Well, that's where it happened;
in the church where my mother was caretaker,
the day after a Mother's Day banquet
that she was not good enough to be invited to attend,
though good enough to clean up the remains
from the privileged ones who were there…
…and they left a big box of kitchen matches
lying there on the counter right where curious,
small hands could reach them.
I can still see the angry red welts
and white hot blisters rising on his skin
as he ran around our house crying in agony,
"Hurry up doctor, hurry up doctor!"
while mom was on the phone
calling the ambulance,
calling my father,
calling the neighbor,
Trying to soothe my tiny brother,
to keep him calm while in her own heart
panic was rising.
Then I heard the church bells ringing…
That day was the first time
I can remember being afraid that
someone I loved was going to die.
And the day I wished it had been the fool
who left those deadly matches lying there instead.
Wishing that it was one of those haughty ladies;
and feeling ashamed for the thought…
And I did not cry...
Not when it happened;
not until my father carried my baby brother
into the house swaddled like a mummy
in bandages from neck to waist,
his eyebrows and hair still showing singe.
It was then that I cried...
Cried from relief that he hadn't died,
cried from sympathy for the pain he was bearing,
cried harder still when he told me not to cry.
And finally, looking at my mother's gentle
and now haggard face, realizing for the
first time, that my mother
was really a hero.
She still is to this day.
And when I told her of my anger, of my guilty thoughts,
there was no blame, no anger in her, no thought of vengeance;
that was the moment I knew
I must try to be just like her.
I am still trying.
And every so often
the church bells remind me.
Copyright February 14, 2010