Monday, December 24, 2012

Christmas, And The Great Hair Fire Of '98

Yesterday, I was at church reading the scripture of the day on my iPhone app, when I received a text message from my son. Wow. I just reread that sentence and thought how just ten years ago it would have made absolutely no sense. Anyway,…the text informed me that there had been a wreath fire at Patrick’s church that morning that required a fire extinguisher to put out. It had plunged that Episcopal congregation into much chaos and tumult. When I got this news I immediately thought about a similar episode years ago that involved my Mother. The Great Hair Fire of ’98, it has been called by all those who witnessed it. Since I was a mere 6 rows away from the action, I can give an accurate account of the thing, although my sisters might dispute a detail or two. Linda and Paula cannot be depended on to tell a tale without distortions and embellishments, while my finely tuned detectives’ eye for detail and photographic memory is much more trustworthy. Besides, I have a blog, and they do not.

It was in December. The church in Chester, Virginia was festively adorned with Christmas finery and the small sanctuary was bathed in candle light. At the alter there was one sturdy hand carved table. This particular church didn’t have much of an alter. There was no kneeling rail, no steps, just the one table which usually displayed a large opened bible, but today was covered with several huge honking candles. These babies were serious candles, meant to provide light for years. They were as big around as a baseball bat and nearly two feet high. They gave off a prodigious flame actually providing warmth to everyone in the first two rows.

When dad finished his sermon, he issued an alter call and the congregation began singing “Just As I Am”. My Mother was the only person in the building who felt moved by the spirit to go to the alter. She stood close to the table on the right and bowed her head to pray. My Dad was several steps in front of her to her left, and was anxiously scanning the congregation for troubled souls when it all happened.

My Mother, like many women of her generation, had a fondness for hair spray. Not just any hair spray, it had to be Aqua Net, in the tall purple and white ozone-depleting aerosol can. Mom would cover her hair with a thick blast of Aqua Net and her hair could withstand a Category 5 hurricane. Of course, I loved it when she threw away the empty cans because there was always a couple of blasts left that I would spray onto a lit candle in the back yard to impress my buddies. The three foot long flames that would blaze out from the can were great fun, and the fact that neither I nor any of my buddies were ever incinerated is evidence of God’s grace and protective care.

Mom stood at the alter table deep in prayer and contemplation, her head bowed in solemn piety when suddenly her hair nodded an inch too close to one of the candles, and just like in the back yard her hair suddenly became engulfed in flame! A gasp shot through the crowd as my Dad, with cat quick reflexes began slapping Mom’s head with his hand. One slap, two slaps, three slaps, and it was out. The whole thing was over in five seconds, the only evidence that it had happened at all being a brief powerful whiff of seared hair and Aqua Net. Mom barely moved the entire time so intensely focused on her prayer was she that not even her head catching on fire could distract her from her mission.

What I remember the most about The Great Hair Fire of ‘98 was that although it was potentially a very dangerous thing, I couldn’t stop laughing. It is a terrible thing to be in church with an uncontrollable case of the giggles, especially when it’s your own Mom whose hair caught on fire, but there I was in row 6 desperately trying to stifle a torrent of belly laughs. But in the end Mom was saved by Dad’s heroic action, and after a quick trip to the beauty parlor, Mom’s hair was as good as new. Christmas was saved and now through this blog, the legend is preserved for eternity.