In the early mornings I go downstairs and crawl into bed with my father. I nestle close to him and sleep. His smell is of the earth: strong, filling, comforting, safe.
At night sometimes, I sit next to him on his bed and watch him brush and polish his wingtip shoes. I marvel at how he chooses tasks that match his energy level, brushing and polishing his shoes and organizing things on and in his bureau when he is tired. Reading, playing chess with me, working on college papers or moseying about in the yard when he is rested. He loves to water the lawn. We like to stand together and talk while he does. We have to talk louder than usual so we can hear each other over the sound of the water. He guides the long feather of water back and forth across the lawn. He hands me the hose so I get to guide the long feather of water back and forth across the lawn too. Whenever my motion gets a little shaky, he doesn’t seem to notice. We just keep talking and pass the long feather of water back and forth between us. The world is ours.
One day a man from the fire department comes to my school, Lincoln Avenue Elementary School, and tells us we must always be prepared for a fire. How the most important thing is to make sure everyone is safe. People before property, he tells us. He tells us how the firemen make sure to have their fire fighting clothes on the ready at all times so if there is a fire they can dress quickly and get to the fire as fast as possible to save homes and families and children like us.
I want to be just like the firemen in case there is a fire. When I get home, I put my work boots right next to my bed. I tuck a clean sock into each boot. I put pants and shirt on top of them, neatly folded.
Just days later, to my delight and my father’s dismay, there is a fire. My father was outside burning brush in a big wire basket when a gust of wind hit. Burning embers flew from the basket and set fire to our lawn. I was in my pants, socks, shirt, boots and out the door in no time. Half our lawn is on fire now. My father spraying water onto the fire, the feather moving back and forth somewhat faster than usual. He looks sad and when I see he is sad, my excitement vanishes, and my heart breaks. I love him so much I can’t bear to see him sad. The fire department arrives and the fire is out in short order. I never tell my father I had been hoping for a fire. He was proud of our lawn and nothing crushes me more than seeing my father sad or upset.