It’s been a busy couple of weeks, and my son and I are visiting my mom as I write this. Coming down here is like walking into a time machine, with all the memories and so on. Last night, as we were heading off to the store, we passed a certain spot in the road. “Hey, Michael, this bridge here is where the story in the Ranchero happened.” (Yes, I was passing a car… on a bridge… I’d forgotten to mention that in that story…)
I found I was telling him stories, not just stories from some mystical past, but stories right where they happened. And it made the stories a little more real, to be standing exactly on the spot where they happened.
And we got to talking about one particular story that happened long before the house had any reliance on fossil fuels. When I was a kid, back before Al Gore had even thought of inventing the internet, we didn’t have cable TV, or video games, but there was always, always something to do. There were chores constantly, and one of mine was simple: When I came home from school, I’d have to bring wood in for the rather cranky woodstove (it was simple: no wood, no heat), or – sometimes when I came home and there was no one else home, the house was cold.
Well, if the house was cold, and I was the only one in it, and if I was the one who wanted heat, then I had to build a fire in the stove. That got interesting sometimes, as there were times when I couldn’t get a fire going for anything.
Keep in mind here – I was a teenager.
And I couldn’t get a fire started…
In the house…
The idea of having a thermostat to turn up was a dream – but it was just that. (It was only 11 years ago that we had a gas fireplace installed there for my mom. But back when I was a kid (oh gad that makes me sound old), one day, I was both cold and impatient, and to light the stove in the living room, I got a bunch of newspaper, was too impatient to split any kindling, so I just put some wood scraps from the lumber mill in town on the newspaper there in the stove. Sometimes I’d be lucky and actually get it to light – but this time it just wouldn’t stay lit for anything – and I was cold, and I just wanted a fire.
So, operating with the Infinite Teenage Wisdom ® that is so common at that age, I got some gas from the lawn mower, and poured a little onto the wood and paper in the stove. I then reached up to the place where the matches were…
…and realized I’d used the last of them trying so unsuccessfully to start the fire.
I took the gas can back outside (first – actually, only – smart thing I did) and hunted all over until I found some matches. When I got back to the stove, I instinctively knew what had happened – the gas had vaporized to its most lethal form, and I knew that lighting it would be a bit of a challenge now – far different than the “I can’t start this fire” challenge.
Given that, and knowing that exploding gas would be a challenge to try to contain, I decided to stand to the side of the stove, with the door open instead of trying to toss the match in and slam the door shut., That way it would relieve the pressure I knew was coming, and toss the match in while I was standing on the side, away from what I thought would be a bit of a flame coming out.
So I stood to the side, with some fresh newspaper and more wood in the firebox of the stove, and I tossed the match in.
Now I don’t think I’d ever seen a rectangular flame before, and definitely haven’t since, but a flame – exactly the size and shape of the stove opening, shot about three feet out of the stove, spewing bits of wood and burning newspaper paper all over the living room. What must have been just seconds seemed like hours as I frantically cleaned all those pieces up before they caught the rest of the living room on fire. That would have been, um, bad…
And I would have had to explain to my mom yet again why there was smoke in the same room I coincidentally happened to be occupying. (I did have some experience with that)
By the time my mom got home that day, the fire was burning nicely.
Inside the stove.
I have no idea how I hid my guilty expression when she came home. Maybe I was too frustrated by the whole event to feel guilty. In fact, she only heard about this years later. (actually, Thanksgiving a couple of years ago)
And of course, she was shocked.
Come to think of it, a number of the stories that are mentioned here are stories she finds out about as I’ve been writing them. It makes for fun conversations now – but as I look back on it – the adult in me got to asking myself, the Teen With the Infinite Wisdom ®, “What were you thinking?” Or more specifically, I narrowed it down to, “Did you not see the line between dumb and stupid as you blasted past it?”
I realized that this, like most of the actions controlled by my Infinite Teenage Wisdom® were the result of simply not thinking of the consequences to my actions early enough to have them change what I was doing.
Yes, I knew that gasoline was flammable, in fact, I even counted on it. What I didn’t count on, or expect, was that the, um, “influence” that the gasoline had, could expand to other things as quickly as it did. No, even that’s not true… I knew it would be dramatic, otherwise I wouldn’t have stepped to the side. I guess I was expecting flames, but not the aftermath of all the fiery bits and pieces that flew out after the flames, and I didn’t expect to have to try to put all that back in the stove.
I did some more thinking about it, and realized that the adage my son has told me many times, “To be Old and Wise, you must first be Young and Stupid.” –
In fact, there’s an old saying, with a corollary right along with it:
“With age comes Wisdom”
“…but sometimes, Age comes alone.”
So how do I learn from this as an adult now? Well, I’m still human, still capable of making mistakes with the best of them, but at least I’m working on learning from the old ones and using those lessons to learn how to make different new mistakes, (instead of repeating the same old ones over and over.
And I guess that’s it, huh? Learn from your mistakes, because if you don’t, you may as well just soak the mistakes in gas and throw in the match, because in the end – well, – cleaning bits and pieces of what you were trying to do will be very much like trying to put a burning fire back into a fire place, and that, my friends, is hard.