My plush turtle with the music box buried deep in it’s stuffing filled abdomen was ruined. I had forgotten that it was even with me that day. I only remembered the cars. Now it lay in the front yard horribly bloated and singed. That soft seafoam green face with the goofy candy apple red grin was almost unrecognizable. Yet, I yearned to pick it up and twist the metal wing that protruded from it’s shell, hoping it would still play the sweet little melody that always comforted me, but, even at just 3 years of age, I knew better than to go near it or even ask about it. After all, I had just wreaked a whole laundry list of havoc, the least of which was that blackened, waterlogged toy.
The day started out with a brilliant plan. Mom had a full agenda of shopping to do and I would be going along as her co-pilot. Just us. The neighbors would watch my baby sister so that Dad could spend his day catching up on household maintenance. Perfect! Win..Win.right? It should have been, but the wonderfully simple plan failed before it got off the ground. “Go get in the car and I’ll be there after I take your sister to the neighbor’s house” Mom directed. I skipped right out to the driveway and pulled myself up into the passenger seat of our baby blue 1966 Toyota Corona. My mom adored that car. We’d cruise around in her pride and joy with the windows down, music blasting and Mom sporting a big grin as she commented on how “zippy” her little baby was. Man, she loved that car. Once up in the cabin, I started the search for my lap belt. Remember lap belts? Remember the days before air bags, space aged child seats and measuring yourself against the cartoon squirrel before being allowed to enjoy the best rides at the amusement park or ride in the front seat of a car? I wedged my tiny arm into the crevasse that separated the back and butt portions of the vinyl bench seat. I flipped my hand one way then the other never finding the half of the seat belt I was missing, but I did find something else. Something forbidden. Something I had been warned about since the moment language was more than just noise. Something that would turn that perfectly lovely day and my turtle into a shit show.
I closed my hand around the treasure and pulled it from it’s hiding spot. Palm up, I fanned open my fingers one at a time, revealing the tattered white card-stock matchbook. It’s cover was folded over and tucked away, hiding the danger, but begging me to take a peek. I did. There they were. Their numbers had dwindled some, but plenty still remained in neat formation ready for use. Those little red headed beauties, with their paper stick bodies that I had been trained to leave alone, stared back at me. I bent one toward me, grasped it between my index finger and thumb, and then tore it free just like I had seen Mom do so many times. I flipped the book over and after a quick look to make sure Mom wasn’t about to barge in on me, I scraped that match across the rough strip, igniting it and my finger on the first attempt. The terrible sting forced me to drop both the lit match and it’s book immediately. As I scrambled out of the Corona I glanced down at the floorboard and then shut the door.
“I burned my finger” I informed my dad as I stood there pointing my throbbing finger in the air like the alien that would become famous in about 10 years.
Dad: “What? How?”
Me: “With the matches”
Dad: “What matches?”
Me: “The matches in the seat”
Dad: “What seat?”
Me: “The blue car seat”
Dad: “Where is the match that burned your finger?”
Me: “Between the cars”
End of interrogation. Queue Dad giving lecture about “playing” with matches while getting me an ice cube to hold against my fiery finger before picking back up where he left off mowing the lawn in the backyard.
“Bob, my car is on fire!” Mom screamed as she came bursting through the front door. At the same moment, Dad came barreling in the back door screaming at my mom to call the fire department. Awesome. My dad, a firefighter himself and with an older brother who was the Fire Marshal on the department, would get to explain to his buddies how his little girl had torched his wife’s car. I’m sure the ribbing commenced as soon as the car was sufficiently drenched. “She told me the match was between the cars” he’d say over and over again still kicking himself for not asking just one more clarifying question. Just..one..more..what.
Dad: “What cars?”
Me: “My Matchbox cars on the floor”