It was a Saturday night, and the woman who works for me was extra tired from her long honey-do list. We had just put on Footloose when she said, “I’m going to bed.”
“Good night,” I said, looking at her ten year old daughter who was wearing my boots from forty years ago and who didn’t look the least bit tired.
“Can we have a fire in the fireplace?” she asked as soon as her mom had disappeared.
It had been unseasonably warm that October day, a perfect day for yard work and getting ready for winter.
“Why do you want a fire?” I asked, comfy in my recliner with a dog on my lap. “Are you cold?”
“I want to light a match,” she said. “I’ve never done that before.”
Her she was, closer to her 11th birthday than her 10th, and she’d never lit a match? As an ex-Girl Scout camp leader, I thought that was just wrong.
“How about we light some candles instead?” I said, sending her to the dining room for the candlesticks.
She retrieved the candlesticks, and found my copper bucket of candles that I use to start fires with kindling. She found the match box, and I showed her how to strike one match with the box safely closed) against the strike plate on the side. After she’d struck, lit, blown out, struck, lit blown out a dozen pairs of candles, I said, “ Why don’t you light the new candles with an old candle. She kept changing the tapers, lighting them, and blowing them out.
“Oops, let’s move that box of Kleenex,” I said. “It could catch on fire.”
“How about the copper bucket?” she asked.
“Nope, copper won’t burn.”
She pointed to other things on the table, and we discussed what would burn and what wouldn’t burn. A ten year old? Her mom couldn’t get mad at me, right? I was teaching her how to respect fire.
At one point she asked to light the big candle with the double wick. I said okay as I had one eye on the movie and another eye on her firebug doings. I glanced over and saw thw large candle flaming up too high and jumped out of my chair.
“What happened?” I asked.
“Oh, I put some paper on it to see what would happen.”
I carried the candle to the kitchen and put it out in the sink.
“Don’t ever do that,” I said. “You saw how high the flame was.”
At another point, she had two lit candles in her hands, and she snapped them down like they were sparklers. The flames went out.
“Don’t ever do that again,” I said, “not inside a house. It’s too dangerous.”
She apologized. I worried about my new area rug under us.
I gave her the Martha-Stewart-approved job of making all the candle wicks black. Martha says to light new candles so they don’t look new. I had a bucket full of second-hand candles for the ten-year-old to transform. Some of them were doubles, and I sent the girl to the kitchen for scissors so she could cut the wicks apart.
I watched the rest of Footloose, and the girl played with fire until the movie was over. Her eyes were gleaming. She was doing something she’d wanted and waited to do for years.
The next morning her mother told me that her daughter’s big brother had set the backyard on fire when he was six. No wonder she hadn’t been allowed to use matches. (But there was some fallout. My area rug now has a line of wax drippings on it, not from the girl but from where I carried that big flaming candle to the kitchen sink).
I tried ice cubes and got some of the wax off but not all.
The mom headed out for doughnuts, and I need to shower.
“Do I need to hide the matches?” I asked her.
“No, she wouldn’t do that,” Mom said.
And she was right.