Tuesday, January 5, 2016


If a kid shows courage in the woods, but no one sees it, was she brave?

I was nine, caught up in the raw beauty of the blazing bonfire. The heat on my face competed with chill of night air on my back. My eyes watered from the dusky smoke when the breeze shifted my way. The crackle and pop of damp kindling sent bright orange sparks into the crisp night air, like tiny fireworks. I knew to keep my distance.
My eyes tuned in to the bright light of the flames, making the darkness beyond the fire impenetrable. I could see the faces of the other campers gathered for the sing-along.
Everyone kept a safe distance from the flames.
Except for the kid across from me.
He was part of a loud group that had been disturbing my peace with nightly parties and loud music since their arrival a week before. Just after the sing-a long started, I noticed that his parents had left him sitting there and gone back to their party.
Finding himself suddenly alone, he stood searching.
He stepped forward.
He was wearing those footsie pajamas every little kid seemed to have in the 70s and I could see the white plastic sole of his foot, outstretched, and searching for a place to set down in the narrow space between the singers and the fire.
He threaded his way through; his gaze fixed on his cabin in the distance.
The pace of the music picked up. The neck of a guitar bobbed in time. Everyone clapped along.
The boy squeezed between the guitar and the fire. The guitarist swung his body with the music.
The kid lurched out of the way and into the flames.
Sparks flew up as the boy came down.
I looked for movement from the adults around the fire, but nobody moved. The clapping continued. The singers sang on.
Suddenly, a pair of hands hoisted the boy away from the blaze. His feet scraped a dark trail through the hot red coals. Flames flickered on his synthetic flannel pajamas. The hands beat down the flames and brushed away the glowing embers that clung to the melting vinyl soles of his pajama feet.
I looked down and realized that those hands were my own.
The kid scampered away without a word or a look back.
In his wake, the cool night air washed over me. Music again filled my ears.
I brushed the grey ash from my hands and was shocked that they were not burned. I sat there for a while, mouthing along with the singing. When the music and the fire finally tapered off, I headed to our cabin.
I didn't tell anyone until a few weeks later.
"Gramama," I whispered. "I was a hero!"
We stood alone in her dining room with only my play-dough sculptures watching us from a midst her treasures in the china cabinet. I admired her simple cotton dress knowing that she'd probably made it herself--a skill she'd begun to share with me. We'd just finished another one of her incredible meals and it filled my belly like courage.
I thought she would be proud.
"But Crissy,” she said, “if no one saw you, how do you know you were a hero?"
My throat tightened and I turned away so she couldn't see me biting my lip. I had been brave and fast—that was a hero in my book. No, I thought, it didn't matter that no one had noticed.
Years later, I Googled myself and was surprised to find my name, along with my husband's, in a police blotter column. It briefly mentioned how we had stopped to give aid at a car wreck. Had my grandmother been alive, I might have shown it to her and shared the story of another night when I battled fire, this time with a fire extinguisher and witnesses. I wonder what she would have said.

I can't ask her about it now.