Why the fire started I would find out later, but we know who started it, Youngest Sister and Only Brother, five and six years old respectively.
Our upstairs bedroom had access to two separate attic spaces. One door about three feet high was along one wall of our bedroom. No one ever wanted their bed near this door because it was spooky. You never knew what lurked within. The second door was above the landing at the top of the stairs. You had to take a big step up to get into this attic space. Inside this door was a large cedar lined closet with shelves and poles for hanging clothes. Beyond this space was another 3-foot door that led to the rest of the unfinished portion of the attic. We never explored this area beyond the closet because it was dark and scary and you had to walk stooped over in that part of the attic, making it hard to turn and run from monsters if need be. It was hard to feel secure in the cedar closet because who knows what lurked behind that other door, but sometimes you would find all five of us in there playing.
It started when Mami decided to play a prank on us one day. She was cleaning out the cedar closet and she thought it would be funny to go into the other section of the attic behind the second door. She decided to hide. Where is she? She’s gone. Mami, Mami where are you? She started making ghosts sounds that made us jump and run. She started screaming pretending that the ghost was “getting her.” We screamed and cried, and then she came out laughing. It was a good prank, but some of us didn’t think it was funny at all. Mami always had a mischievous streak and she loved to watch the reactions she would get when she did or said something outrageous.
So that’s why I found it strange that Only Brother and Youngest Sister would be alone together in that closet a week or two after Mami’s prank. When I realized why they were in there I thought them both brave and stupid at the same time. They were going ghost hunting. What they did next was very, very stupid.
The light was dim so they took matches with them. And you know it; they dropped a lit match and tried to blow it out themselves. Only Brother sent Little Sister down to get a glass of water. Mami noticed the filthy glass in Little Sister’s hand and asked, “Where are you taking that glass?” Only Brother wants some water she explained. Mami took the glass and told her to get a clean one. Soon Only Brother had to raise the alarm, running down the stairs screaming that the attic was on fire. No one believed him at first, until I looked up the stairs and saw a glow coming from the inside of the closet. Mami flew into action.
First she screamed for Only Brother and Little Sister to get out of the house, and they ran out the back door. Mami screamed, “Girls! Bring me water. Get the big pans and fill them up with water and bring them to me quick. Hurry, hurry!” Pretty much every kitchen had huge pots to make enormous amounts of rice or soup for their big families. Luckily we had three good size pots. Mami jumped into the closet and started beating the fire with whatever she could. She started tossing things out of the closet as not to catch fire.
Sister After Me, Middle Sister and I were taking turns running the pots of water to her. We started out by trying to fill the pots to the top, but this was too inefficient. The pots were too heavy and water sloshed out before we could get them up to her. Plus Mami was yelling down for us to hurry, she needed water, NOW! We realized that we couldn’t fill the pots too high, but at the same time there had to be sufficient water in the pots to do any good, otherwise Mami she would certainly lose the battle. And battle she did.
Every time I went up I still saw the glow of the fire, sometimes against her face, her arms rising above her head, working hard to beat the blaze down. We ran up and down the stairs over a dozen times each, Mami grabbing the pot of water and throwing it onto the fire and screaming for us to hurry with more. We decided to try the bucket line, where I would fill and the others would grab the pot and leave the empty one. But it seemed to take forever. Besides I was the oldest, the strongest to carry the heaviest of pots, so we went back to each of us filling and carrying our own pots. I can’t tell you how long it took to put it out. After a point, we realized that Mami was in danger. We started calling and crying for Mami to come out. But she wouldn’t give up.
It seemed an eternity. I think it actually took about 10-15 minutes, but finally the fire was out. We were amazed. She did it. My mom was a hero, and one of the bravest women I know. I was so proud of her. When she came out her hair was wild, her face black, and she looked exhausted. We looked at her and started laughing because even the inside of her nose was black. She looked perturbed with us, but then gave a big smile.
I realized that not only was she battling to put out a fire, she was battling to keep her home. She was fighting to keep a roof over our five heads. Mami saved our house. What a woman!
For punishment Little Sister and Only Brother knelt for hours on the bathroom floor.