Rated: 13+ · Short Story · Biographical · #886981
Thanksgivings bring families together. This one brought a family even closer.
| Like most families, mine has always considered Thanksgiving as a time for all of us to come together. There were a few missed ones. The year my grandfather died in November we skipped the turkey night completely. The two years the Army stationed me in Germany the flight was too long and expensive to make it home just for dinner. These years, however, are anomalies.|
Most outsiders consider my family a bit dysfunctional, yet, after 36 years my parents are still together and we all still communicate frequently. Sure, there is arguing and ranting and drinking but there is no doubt that the love is always there. Proof of this came after my twenty seventh Thanksgiving.
I was stationed in Alabama (otherwise known as hell to those of us there). I was actually going to miss Thanksgiving with my family that year. Airfare was expensive and I had a second job outside the Army that I really needed to be around for. Two weeks before the big day, however, my girlfriend, Gina, became my fiance. I decided it was time for her to meet my parents so we bought tickets for New York.
Thanksgiving night was excellent. We toasted the engagement with a bottle of Dom Perignon and enjoyed each other's company for a fabulous dinner. When it was all over I spoke to my parents about the wedding asking them to pay for it. I was a lowly soldier, my fiance was just a grocery store clerk and her parents had no money. My parents understood my asking but simply couldn't afford a big wedding especially while supporting my sister and her husband who had moved into the house. There was no arguing and no ranting just simple acceptance of what was.
The next night was our last in New York as we had a 10:00 flight the next morning. After everyone else was asleep Gina and I stayed up drinking beer and watching cable. At about 4:00 my father came out of his room and essentially demanded we call it a night saying we were keeping people awake. With a slight buzz on, I emptied the ashtray while Gina grabbed our beers, and we headed for the bedroom.
We were still in the lovey dovey stage of our relationship so as soon as we hit the bed we started fooling around. Things were progressing nicely and we were down to just our underwear. Caressing Gina's body and hearing her moans kept getting interrupted by a strange smell and I kept deciding it was just a cigarette filter burning in the ashtray. Then came a scream.
At the time I couldn't make out my sister's words but in retrospect I realize she had screamed, "the house is on fire." My buzz was immediately wiped out as I suddenly understood what was going on. I ran out in my underwear and found my sister staring at a blaze in the kitchen. I knew immediately it was coming from the garbage can I had dumped my ashtray into. Worse, the fire extinguisher was on the other side of that garbage can! Telling my sister to get her husband and son out of the house I ran back down the hall. I poked my head into the room I had just run out of and told Gina to get some clothes on. Then I woke up my parents.
My father threw on a robe and grabbed his cell phone while my mother started to put some clothes on. I ran back to Gina and saw she was still dressing so I took the time to slip on a pair of jeans and sneakers. When I looked again my mother was dressed and I helped her through the smoke to the front door before heading back to Gina. Everyone else at least knew their way through the house but Gina did not, so with one hand over her mouth and nose I half carried her outside.
The smoke was so thick that at one point, my father, standing 15 feet from the front door, yelled at my brother-in-law to open the door. He yelled back from the doorway that it was open. Foolishly, after having already inhaled more smoke than anyone else, I ran back inside. I grabbed mine and Gina's jackets and threw them toward the door while still running to get our bags. After all, they were already packed and If I retrieved them we could still make our morning flight.
By the time I got to the bags the spreading fire had blown a fuse and the thick, smoky haze grew dark. I had no chance to do anything but find my way back to the exit.
We all stood outside in various stages of dress. I had just jeans and sneakers but no shirt so I covered up with my jacket. Gina had more clothes than me and her jacket helped. My father looked the funniest in his bathrobe, bare feet and blanket wrapped around him. Just as the guilt started to set in I saw Gina shaking. I knew it wasn't the cold. The treatment for shock is warmth so my father had to give up his blanket and then we just stood around waiting for the fire department, listening to the sounds of a burning house fill the brisk night.
At last two firetrucks and an ambulance showed up. The first one off the truck asked which house it was and unbelievingly I snapped at him and told him it was the one with the billowing smoke oozing out of it. Then we surprised them. They couldn't believe that no one was still in the house. Apparently it's unusual for an entire family to escape a burning house in the middle of the night.
Eventually it was all over. Traumatic (and embarassing) experience creates bonds and Gina became a family member faster than any in-law in history. The house was rebuilt which increased it's value. The insurance money paid for a big wedding which we all enjoyed. The two biggest changes? I can't smell anything burning without it bringing instant memories and I'm no longer allowed to empty ash trays at my parents' house.