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An Uninvited Guest Heats Up the Holidays | Sandy Barton
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December tends to bring out the crisis mode in our family. One December in particular stands out as truly classic.

Our old farmhouse was the perfect place for entertaining; it was big enough to allow for roaming, and cozy enough with the two fireplaces blazing, to feel like Little House on the Prairie. We had three major parties that December, and fire was an unwelcome guest at each one.

The first calamity occurred after the Student Council winter party.  My daughter’s friends filled the house with music, laughter and pizzas … lots of pizzas. A word of caution: Never put an oversized pizza box in a fireplace. Those flames shot up the front of the bricks, and raced across the bough-lined mantle. We put that one out with pillows.

The second calamity occurred during my faculty party the following weekend. While checking on the tenth batch of hors d’oeuvres in the oven, I noticed two men walking past me with my living room rug rolled up, and slung over their shoulders. “Where are you going with that?” I thought it was a legitimate question.

“Oh we’re taking it outside to throw it in the snow.  A log popped, sent some embers through the screen, and the rug started on fire.” And out they went.

Then came Christmas Eve morning. I had finally finished baking the last of the fourteen varieties of cookies the night before. Tins were piled high in anticipation of the forty guests we were expecting for Christmas Eve. Before dawn we awoke to the louder-than-usual squeals of guinea pigs – not the smoke alarm – alerting us to smoke in the basement. We woke up the kids, and called 911. I grabbed the three guinea pigs from their basement cages and stuffed them into the front pocket of my hoodie. Then, I dragged the dog by the collar and the kids by their PJ’s, and threw them all into the van.

It didn’t take long before the sirens broke the silence of the frozen morning. Standing by the road, I waved frantically as two fire trucks raced past the house. The out-of-order house numbers on our street made for some confusion, so I stood there in my lovely morning attire, waiting for them to come back. They did.  The hook and ladder stayed out front with the firefighters at the ready.  The other truck emptied equipment and men in no time flat, and they gave us the ok to go in to get anything important. Hmmm.

Out I came with as many cookie tins as I could hold; I figured we might as well feed the crowd. Aside from the volunteer firefighters, our house-burning party included the electric company, the gas company, a few random policemen and of course, neighbors. Martha Stewart would have been proud. I served everyone in the yard, on the hook and ladder, and in the van.  Oh, the menagerie in the van was a whole other story.  With windows completely fogged up and dripping with condensation, that Caravan held the most important things from the house – the kids and the pets. Our golden retriever had made several attempts to end the lives of the squealing guinea pigs, the kids were begging to get out, and an entire tin of cookies couldn’t quell the chaos in that rocking vehicle.

But, another crisis had been averted; there was nothing more than smoke damage to the house. The last fire truck pulled away with choruses of “Thanks for the cookies-the jam-filled thumb prints were our favorites!”  I just shook my head, so thankful for all of those volunteers, and so anxious for December to end.

In December of 2014, this essay appeared in the Buffalo News in the My View column.