I was almost four, with a bad case of chicken pox. Mom was very pregnant—ten days from delivery. At the last minute, she snatched all the custom made clothes off the moving van, for fear they’d get snagged in transit, and brought them to the brand new car. I was waiting in the back seat. Dad and Jack drove off in the van while Mom laid Dad’s suits on top of her coat, and her dresses on top of the suits, smoothing out the bumps as she worked. Beneath the pile was a bed sheet, which served as a protective barrier between the floorboard and the clothes, and she unrolled the excess to form a cover. Sitting next to me on the seat was a bowl containing various items, including a box of kitchen matches. After placing the bowl on top of the bed sheet, Mom told me she needed to turn the books to the housing development we were leaving over to the next door neighbor. I wanted to play with the neighbor kids, but she said I’d have to wait in the car because of the chicken pox. She'd only be a minute.
During the interminable minute, the box of kitchen matches caught my eye. Mom and Dad were both smokers. After lighting up, they often allowed me to blow out the match. What fun! Thinking I’d pass the time by blowing out some flames, I took a match and began rubbing the business end over the flint side of the box, just as they'd done countless times. But I applied no pressure, so nothing was happening. Bored, I looked out the window at cows grazing very close to the car in the pasture beyond a barbed wire fence. Mindlessly, I continued rubbing the match while watching the cows meander and chew. Caught off guard when the match caught fire, I dropped it onto the precious pile of clothes, which immediately burst into flames!
As I cranked down the window and jumped out, Mom appeared on the scene with the neighbors. Mr. Neighbor quickly sprang into action with a garden hose as Mrs. Neighbor whisked me into the kitchen and sat me at the table. While I exposed her children to the chicken pox, she served me milk and Oreos. Mom had clearly been crying when she came to tell me it was time to go. She took my hand and together we slogged through the snow to the wet sooty car, which she would have to drive 45 miles down an icy, windy mountain pass.
DON'T TOUCH ANYTHING! Mom cautioned as she sat me on a stack of towels hiding a portion of the soaking wet remnant of the backseat. Inhaling smoke as she drove, I surveyed the destruction. Burned remnants of cloth hung from naked metal rods arched across the ceiling. Plastic door handles had melted into unsightly blobs. Upholstery springs poked through the ruined seat cover. Periodically, Mom interrupted her uncontrollable sobs to say, I just hope your dad doesn’t kill you!
It seemed an eternity had passed by the time we arrived at our new home in Bakersfield.