Yes, I did! This was about the same time I stole the candy from the K Mart. It was a rough year! Come on, I was only five years old.
My parents were always trying to teach me “valuable lessons” when I was young. I think most non-crack head parents try to do the same for their children. However, my parents turned learning into an art form. By this, I mean they got creative with lessons. I am an only child, so it was always two against one. My dad always knew who broke stuff in the house since there was only one kid.
This particular lesson was about fire. In the South, we like to burn up all sorts of stuff. We will make a huge fire in the yard and burn anything from trash, to leaves and possibly old cars! If it won’t burn, we just add gasoline or lighter fluid! I was always fascinated by fire.
My parents were watching this show on TV about fire safety that they made me watch too. One subject of the show was how fires are started with matches. It was supposed to deter kids from playing with matches. Whoops! Bad call on that one. I was enthralled.
Um, did it ever occur to my parents that the show was just showing me how to start a fire? I’m just sayin’.
The show started with education about how matches work and showed you how to strike and light a match. I watched without distraction. It was like a small coma that could not allow me to look away from the TV. The show went on about fire safety and blah, blah, blah. The show lost me at “safety.’ I had just learned what matches can do and how to use them. Game on!
So, the show is over, and the parents do the “educational follow up” talk about fire safety. I am thinking to myself, “ok, yeah, I got this, can I go now?” I had plans.
I head straight back to my bedroom, after a brief stop in the kitchen to get a pack of matches. The rolling credits to the show were not even over and I am headed to my room to experiment with these new found matches of fire!
I dash to my bedroom. I throw back the covers on my bed. I plop myself down on the sheets. I open the matchbook and tear off my first match. Scraaaaatch, pufff! I lit that sucker up! I am feeling like a genius sorcerer! I just made fire.
I watch it burn for a few seconds, then I blow it out. Before all the smoke and sulfur burn off, I throw the match on my bed sheets! Yes, I did!
I strike the second match. Scratch and poof again. I wiggle this one around and watch the flame dance. I am a fire God! Blow that one out and toss it on the sheets next to the first one.
I did this several more times. I am not completely sure how I managed not to set the bed on fire.
After a while, mom noticed that I was quiet. Parents call this “too quiet.” Translation, if you do not hear noises from kids, they are up to no good. This turned out to be an accurate assessment on my current situation. Mom called this behavior “sneaky”. I prefer to think of it as “entertaining myself.”
So, I am into at least a half of a dozen matches when my mom walks into my room. Kids doors were not allowed to be shut when I was young. Too bad that is not a rule today!
My mom rounds the corner to my bedroom door and she freezes. My only thought, “by the look on her face, she is not here to give me a toy.” Subsequently, I freeze too, but with added elements of panic and fear. I tried to swallow and put on my “innocent face.”
Unfortunately, the look on my mother’s face caused me to stop breathing, therefore, swallowing was out of the question. Briefly, we just stare at each other. However, it felt like a 100 years!
Mom breaks the stare and starts in on me. “What in the hell do you think you are doing?” Followed by, “did you not just watch what happens when kids play with matches?” and “what were you thinking?” And, “why are you throwing burning matches on the bed sheets?”, “Did you know that this can start a fire?”
Which question am I supposed to answer first? Are there any “good” answers that might trump honesty? I feared the truth would not serve me well, at this point. I wanted to point out that she had just showed me an entire TV program that showed me how to light matches. However, I deemed this tid bit may be inappropriate to mention at this particular moment. I chose the “keep your mouth shut” option.
Growing up in the South, you learn that when asked multiple questions from an angry mom, it is best to keep quiet until the questioning is done. If you try to answer, it just adds more angry questions. Trust me on this point!
So all talking ceases. Mom and I are in a Mexican stand off! Well, sorta. Mom is standing over me with her “red, laser eyes” bouncing and her “dark, angel wings” flapping loudly from her back. Geezz, those things are huge.
I am trying to make myself look as small as possible to avoid any talons she may spring on me. What do you do at this point?
The only thing I knew to do was cry. No special effects and no escape plan. I was screwed! Trying to say I was sorry was futile. Besides, she was standing between me and the door. (We also have previously reviewed what happens if you try and run.)
My mom was like “Dante’s Inferno rings of hell” mad. (Pun intended) I watched my mother’s face twitch as she calculated how to punish me. I think I saw her neck twist around in a 360 degree circle like in The Exorcist, but my vision was blurred as I conjured up more tears to gain sympathy. Nope. My mom looked like she was going to snap me in pieces like a twig and use me as kindling for a lawn fire!
Then she promptly turned and left the room. I got my respiration back and sent oxygen to my brain. I knew better than to follow her. Why would you chase after your own punishment? You know this is not over. FYI, I did not strike another match at this point. For some reason, I did not feel like a fire God anymore.
So, I wait for her return. I start thinking, for a change. Is she sending me to reform school? Maybe sending me to boarding school? Maybe send me to a small, deserted island with no matches?
Unfortunately, my dad was also home. This made it two against one.
It seemed like years went by as I stewed in my room. I walked in circles without dare leaving the thought of “haven” of my bedroom. This was short lived.
My mom reappears at my bedroom door. The laser eyes are gone and her dark, angel wings are tucked back neatly in her back, out of sight. Bonus, she was not carrying a suitcase to ship me off!
Mom calmly asks me to follow her. With my head hung low, I demurely shuffle behind. I make no attempts to speak as this may have ignited her anger. (Pun intended, again)
We reach the hall bathroom that I normally used. She told me to get in the bath tub. What? A bath right now? I quickly noticed that the tub did not have any water in it. Humm.
I sit down in the tub as I was told. From outer space, my mother produces a box of 250 kitchen matches! You must remember those big old boxes of matches that took you a year to use them all up! I am speechless.
Next, I was told to sit down in the bath tub with the box of matches. Mom said, “strike every single one of them.” Is she for real? This is going to take all day.
I hesitated in hopes that she was kidding. I did try to eek out something to say. This was met with mom waving a finger and saying, “oh no, get started.” She waited until I light the first match, then leaves me in the tub with 249 other matches.
So my “matches prison” began. It went something like this: scrasstch, pooof, waaaaa. Scratch, poooof, waaaaa. The waaaa was me crying in between each match. This went on for some time. If I delayed in striking a match, I would hear from the other room, “strike all of them.”
I am not really sure how long it took me to strike them all. I can assure you it was long enough for me to remember 45 years later!
Afterward, there was the standard follow up lecture on what I had done and the purpose for the punishment. Rest assured that I did not play with matches as a kid after that!
When I was older, I went onto become a Camp Fire Girl. It taught us how to make a safe fire and how to safely extinguish fires. We also did a lot of other cool stuff. However, Camp Fire Girls no longer exist. I am happy to report that in my area girls are being allowed to join the Boy Scouts! So, fire education continues for the girls!
As an adult, I still have a fascination with fire. We have a structured fire pit in our back yard that we use frequently. My husband can sit out there all night burning up whatever he can find. I am not much better though. I put just about anything in fire that is not toxic! I love to watch stuff burn, with the exception of my house, of course.
I am now a parent myself and understand the trouble parents go to in order to teach our kids lessons. By the way, we do not have any matches in our house!