NEW YEARS EVE
Nina Laree Kraut Shirts Ferguson
Copyright 1997 by Nina Ferguson
New Yearís Eve is a time of jubilee. It brings smiles and laughter. Clackers, whistles, noisemakers, and balloons help to intensify the excitement. People all over the world cheer in each new year. Introspectively each person looks back over the past memories of years before. They hope and resolve to make the coming year better than all the ones before. However, for my family, New Yearís carries a rather different tone. Instead of smiles and laughter our minds are filled with memories of the "shadow of death". The fear experienced that night, so many years ago, still lingers in the hearts of our family members, causing us to repeatedly wake at odd hours of the night and trace in our minds the moves we made, or in my case, the move I didnít make.
My father had just paid the last payment on our three-story farm house, and now it was ours, all ours. The date was December 31, 1959. As we all climbed into bed, the huge grandfather clock in the hallway rang majestically announcing to all that the night was nearly over. My Great-Grandmother had been spending Christmas vacation with the family and was sleeping downstairs in our parents bedroom. My father was sleeping with my younger brother upstairs and my mother was sleeping on the couch in the downstairs living room.
My sisterís cries woke me with a start. "Nina, hurry, we have to go wake up Dad. Thereís fog in the house and I think Mom got kicked by one of the goats." My sister had been awakened by my motherís voice, calling for my father. She grabbed my hand and we found our way into the next bedroom, where my father and brother were sleeping. My sister woke up my dad and explained to him what she thought was going on. He explained to us that the smoke wasnít fog and led the three of us toward the staircase. "The house is on fire," he calmly explained, and I want you kids to do exactly as I ask, without any questions as to why." As my bare feet touched the warming floor, I felt fear begin to creep through me. Reaching the staircase, my father tucked my older sister under one arm, and my younger brother under the other. He turned to me, and with a very serious look on his face said "Nina, stay where you are and donít move, not even an inch".
I later found out that I was standing right above where the fire started.
I watched them disappear down the staircase and sadly realized I was being left alone. I wanted to run after them, but the thought vanished as quickly as it came. I looked at the flames below and knew that I was safer where I was than in the burning flames below. Panic began to eat at my side like hungry mice eating cheese. I noticed that the floor below me was getting hotter and hotter with each passing second. A thousand and one thoughts raced through my head as I stood there. "Why did Dad leave me?" I wondered. "Why didnít he leave Nola?" "Sheís the oldest; sheís already lived longer than I have". "And why did he take Leslie?" "Heís a boy, girls should come before boys". "Maybe Dad just wanted his oldest boy and oldest girl saved" "Maybe he just loves them more than me." "Maybe if I close my eyes real tight, when I open them it will all have just been a bad dream and I will be back safe in my bed". The heat under my feet brought me back to reality. I looked down and realized my feet had turned bright red. I began to hop from one foot to the other. It felt as if the floor below me was going to start on fire. I looked around for a safer place to wait for my dad. About two feet away, I saw what looked like a very safe place to stand. I started to move, but then my fathers words rang out in my mind. "Stay where you are, donít move, not even an inch". I had my answer and I stood there patiently waiting. Suddenly I heard an earth shaking sound... the place next to me, where I had, not two minutes earlier debated moving to, fell aimlessly into the blazing fire below. Needles to say, never had I been so happy that I had minded my father.
"Nina, are you there?" "Yes", I answered. It was my father. I could not see him but I could hear his voice. "The steps are all burned out and I canít make it up to get you." "Your going to have to jump down to me." I looked down through the burning blaze, but I could not see my father. "I canít see you, daddy" I said. My fatherís strong voice came back, "Thatís alright, I can see you." I stood there looking at the hot blazing flames flashing between me and my father and thought. "How can I jump into these flames? Iíll die for sure." Then I remembered how my fathers words had saved me just moments before... I turned and jumped into the flames.
I felt my fatherís hands enclose my body like a glove. His firm grip carried me down the burning staircase and away from the burning flames that surrounded me. How could I have ever doubted my fatherís love for me? I was quickly deposited safely in the back seat of our car where my mother, wrapped in a blanket, my older sister and younger brother waited. As we backed out of the driveway I looked back at the house. In the kitchen window I saw my mothers prized begonias. I stared in amazement as their clay pots burst into a million pieces.
The fire had started when my mother was putting fuel in the pot-bellied stove that heated our home. The flames leaped out and caught my mothersís nightgown on fire. She ran outside and rolled in the snow to put the flames out. It was from there that she called for my father and woke my sister. My mother had 67% of her body burned in second and third degree burns and remained in the hospital for over a year fighting for her life. She is alive today. My father had his face and hands burned almost to the bones when he returned for me. He has completely recovered. My one month old baby brother was taken out by my visiting Great-Grandmother who waited in the cold with him that wintery night for help.
Our home burned to the ground before the fire department arrived. My father had just canceled the home owners policy on our home that day. The new policy was to go into effect the next day, January 1st, but because it was a holiday, the policy was not effective until January 2nd. During that small frame of time we lost our home and everything we owned.
Nights are hard on us. Sometimes Iíll wake up at 3:00 in the morning and find my mother up reading a book, my father up typing and my brother and sister lying awake in their beds, just staring off into the distance. Our thoughts of that night so long ago will never leave us. We canít help but remember the events that happened so quickly, yet take so long to tell.
Yes, for some, New Yearsís is a time of joy, smiles and new beginnings. For my family it truly was a new beginning. Itís not just about living, itís about life! The events of the little 4 years old girl are as real to me today as they were that night in 1959. Time has healed the scars and we have rebuilt our home and replaced the things we lost. We look back on that night so many years ago as only a memory, a very real New Yearís memory.