"To be caught in secret sin is a horrible thing. Only one thing worse. Not to be caught." ~ John Piper via Twitter
"One Seventy-five, Baxter Drive, Apartment J-7," the first address I ever memorized, the one I can't seem to forget, and the vault for my earliest memories. It was here in our den where a late 60s gold and tan patchwork sofa sat inches from an oval coffee table, an antique fashioned from burled wood that had once lived in my grandfather's store. The television, our only, squatted against the opposite wall. I must have been six or seven, it was before Mama was the sickest, when she still lived at home more than the hospital.
Christmas décor magically transfigured our white-walled, three-bedroom apartment–a Scotch Pine sprinkled with wonder and sparkle; Santa and Mrs. Claus calculating naughty or nice from atop their TV perch; our Nativity scene, solemn celebration in a manger. Our apartment had no fireplace so stockings were thumbtacked to the wall; I always wondered how Santa got in.
And candles. Mama must've liked Christmas candles because she had them in the dining room, in the hall bathroom…and on the burly coffee table by the sofa.
One day I decided the candles sure would look a lot prettier lit, so I slipped open the sideboard drawer and found a book of matches. Unbeknownst to my mother I was a skilled pyromaniac, having practiced striking them plenty of times in a concrete hideout not far from our home. Metal trash cans with dented lids hid there, too.
Making sure no one was around, I opened the matchbook and twisted off one from the end; it would go unnoticed later I reasoned. Striking it across the flinty black strip with the confidence of someone twice my age, I lit the candle closest to me. Acting quickly so I could use the same match, I leaned across the table to light the second candle.
It was the first time I had smelled burning hair.
Smug satisfaction was instantly doused by the panicked realization I WAS ON FIRE! Instinct governed my two hands as they frantically clapped out my hair-fire. Body-coursing adrenaline must have quenched the heat, too–I didn't feel pain from the flames.
Heart rate almost normal, I sat on the sofa "reading" a book, one eye glued to page and the other surreptitiously surveying my home. From my vantage point, I could see dining room, hallway and den.
An invisible cloud lingered between ceiling and floor, the acrid scent of singe and deception. It was Tell-Tale Heart, a liar's bouquet, and I wore my guilt like skin. There wasn't one inch of me not covered by it.
But somehow, remarkably, no one mentioned the smell. Mama never even noticed my hair (which I purposely fixed to try to hide the damaged strands). I cautiously waited and waited and waited, and in penitence I stopped playing with matches. For a while, anyway.
Scent memory is powerful and enduring. Every time I have whiffed the trail of burning hair since–four decades!–I remember this childhood event.
On one hand it's amusing to me that immediately I thought of this story when I read Piper's quote above; on the other, it confirms its truth. Even as a little girl I understood my deceit and resultant guilt affected my relationship with my mom, even if she didn't know it.
…which makes me consider the rationalized or ignored sin in my life now. If you play with fire, you will get burned sooner or later…
Sometimes the scars are just well hidden.
Beautifully written Robin. And what a story… Thank you for sharing.
I have been reading every post. But quietly. “Simmering” as *someone* once told me.
But this was beautiful and I have to say so. My apartment in Brooklyn, with me, my mom, and my brother, had bars on the windows – and Santa got in every year – and our stockings were hung on the wall too. And my early “fire” moment was almost the same.
The telltale heart of “singe and deception” is poetry.
Robin, I loved reading this memory. I love the very real reminder that while we can hide sin from others, we can’t hide the effects of it, on ourselves. And sometimes, dontcha think, when we carry the knowledge alone, it becomes all the heavier?
Anyway, thanks so much for painting this picture for us. I loved reading it. 🙂 Happy Christmas, Laura
thank you for such a beautiful picture…but remember,
only SOME of us are cut out to play with FIRE. 🙂
So glad you were not hurt. That could have been a serious issue to you and your home. The angels were there protecting you.
What a poignant memoir. I recently wrote about scent memory too; I agree it’s the most powerful.
What a great story. What are your kids reactions to it? It is amazing how God keeps us safe …. Our angels sure work overtime!
Oh so true!
I couldn’t help but laugh a little at a few parts. But then the very real truth sets in.
I never played with matches as a kid.
But at the end of 2nd grade, I did steal some “monopoly” money out of my teacher’s drawer, cash that was doled out as rewards and then redeemable at a closet “store” full of goodies. I was smart, it was a stack of ones, not so obvious. But my guilt set in when I got home, because I liked my teacher and I stole from her. And then fear set in because I was afraid I would get caught, what if she caught on that I’d never been rewarded that much cash? In my guilt, I couldn’t look at my teacher the rest of the year without thinking about it and I never spent a single dollar of that cash – nor any other cash I might have earned before or after. I also very clearly remember praying to God again and again because I felt guilty. I was old enough to understand guilt, but not old enough to understand confession. 😉
That quote is spot on.
That’s very true ! when I smell mint I think of the smell of the tea my grandma gave me when I was sick. Therefore I can’t stand any mint smell, lol !
“smemories” get me every time too… but oh the power of the lesson you learned so young: hidden sin is far heavier to bear.
I remember reading this Robin and was surprised to find I hadn’t left a comment. But believe me, it got a big Amen in my heart!
Love you sweet friend,
Perfectly said…it drew me in to a memory I haven’t thought of in years…stealing change off my parents’ dresser in the summer for the ice cream man. Weird how those minor “white” lies an turn to fire…