Stuff Happens in 3s

There’s an old saying that goes “bad things usually happen in 3s”.

While I may be somewhat skeptical, I’m not gonna strongly dispute its veracity nor say that it never happens.

I know it does.

It happened to us.

Laurie died the day before 9-11. In December of that year, I was hosting my buddies & my regular poker game at my home here in San Antonio.

It was a pretty down time as you could imagine…and being sad was weighing pretty heavily on my mind.

Someone asked me what I was going to be doing for Christmas.

I mentioned that I would be having the guys over on Friday night for poker night…that we’d be going over to the Campbells (Steve & Jill & Julia & Caroline) for Christmas dinner…and that Heather & I would be flying back to NY to see our families (mine & my in-laws) the following day.

She mentioned that the card game sounded like fun & that she would love to do something like that.

That sparked an idea in my head.

Before you knew it, I decided to have a little party, along with the card game, & began inviting a “few friends” over.

Pretty soon, everything was fully planned out!

We’d have plenty of food & drink for everyone. The guys could play poker in the dining room while everyone else made themselves at home.

As it turned out, pretty much everyone had a great time! Yes, of course, some more than others! 😉

When Tuesday morning (Christmas) rolled around, we didn’t do our regular gift exchange. Normally, Heather would receive literally a whole roomful of gifts. Our study displayed our Christmas tree & you were unable to see any carpet whatsoever in the room!

But we weren’t in the festive mood this year & didn’t even decorate for the holidays.

We had a more more subdued Christmas morning.

But there was no way that we were gonna short-change li’l Julia (now 4) & her cute little sister, Caroline (almost 2).

After all, we were going over their home for a Christmas…and we had a tradition to uphold!

(Laurie babysat Julia from when this gorgeous child was just a couple of months old to 3 1/2 years of age. And she had started with Caroline as well when the cancer monster re-emerged after a few years.)

It’s called “spoiling the kids” & we were charter members of the club.

We had bought a TON of gifts for the girls & decided to wrap everything on Christmas morning.

I lit a small fire in our fireplace in the den as we used the living room as command central for the gift wrapping. We had a gas starter for the logs, but would then turn that off once the wood caught fire & could sustain the fire itself.

Everything was so nice…just like a living holiday card…as we were drinking our coffee, with Christmas music playing & the gentle fire burning in the background.

We were busily wrapping gifts when…

…all of a sudden, Heather, who was facing the den, screamed out, “DAD!!! THE FIREPLACE!!!”

When I turned around, I couldn’t believe what I was seeing!!!

Oh, there was the gentle, 2-log fire burning peacefully at the bottom of the fireplace. Pretty scenic & all.

But right above the fireplace mantle, there was this large hole in the wall…and bright orange-and-yellow-and-blue-and-red  flames were shooting straight out of it!!!

🔥 🔥 🔥

😱 😱 😱

I immediately ran over to the fireplace & got down on my knees to look up the chimney.

All I could see was a solid wall of fire, engulfing the entire chimney!

A couple of logs burning gently on the bottom…nothing in the middle…and a whole raging fire above!

We called 9-1-1 and the firemen arrived within about 3-4 minutes, though, lemme tell ya, it felt like hours! The SAFD had recently put up a steel structure a few blocks away off Bandera Road as a temporary home for a new fire station so they were on the scene almost immediately.

I was never so happy to see a civil servant in all my life! OK, there was this one time with the really-stinky garbage, but…

They came rushing into our home & we able to contain the fire & eventually, extinguish it.

But they had to take down the entire wall behind the fireplace & part of the roof…the fire itself did some considerable damage.

Note: It actually turned out, as discovered during the reconstruction period, that there was a tiny pin leak in the elbow of the gas piping. Combining that with the fact that the chimney was partially clogged & should have been cleaned out, it filled the entire chimney with gas. The small fire ignited the gas in the chimney that had been gathering (for days).

It truly was a miracle that it didn’t blow the whole fireplace – – and more – – totally away.

Within hours, we had our friends’ old pool cover, hanging from the ceiling, as a makeshift den wall.

Naturally, I called our families back in NY & explained that we wouldn’t be coming up to NY the next day. In fact, we weren’t really sure at that point what the hell we would be doing in the foreseeable future.

We just suffered #2 in the triumvirate of “bad things happening”.

When I spoke with my lovely mother-in-law, Lorraine, she was absolutely heartbroken. Way more than what I ever expected.

Something else was wrong.

Now, it so happened that my father-in-law, John, had suffered a traumatic accident a couple of years earlier, but no one informed us right away fear of upsetting Laurie who was battling cancer at the time.

Apparently, her Dad tripped over their dog on the upper level of their “split-level ranch” home. The fall thrust him forward & over the railing above the staircase. He tumbled over & landed on the hard stairs…he was in the hospital for months & months.

And this was the man who had a quadruple bypass about 25 years earlier!

We eventually found out later that year (1999) when we took one of our regular visits “back home” to NY…and he was still in the hospital.

“Michael, your stubborn father-in-law absolutely refuses to go see his doctor until he gets a chance to visit with you! He was so eagerly awaiting for you guys to come!”

I loved my father-in-law John. Both he & Lorraine treated me like their own son.

It was funny, but whenever Laurie & I had differing opinions on something, they ALWAYS sided with me.

(I mean, it was obvious that they had great taste & wanted to be right, no?)

Instantly, I truly felt the full impact of what she had just said to me…”refuses to go see his doctor until…”.

May not have fully understood it, but, honestly, the weight on my shoulders was quite obvious.

I promised Lorraine that we would reschedule our trip & fly up a week later (Jan 2) instead.

She sounded so relieved.

They were the very first people we visited after landing at Newark Airport. John didn’t look very well.

As I mentioned, he already had quadruple bypass surgery ~25 years earlier & outlived the “10 year limited warranty” they normally give you.

He usually would bruise very easily & would heal, from even the smallest of cuts, extremely slowly & “very colorfully”, so it was still pretty evident what had happened to him a few years earlier.

We usually watched baseball & football together as we were both huge sports fans.

Always the Yankees & always the football Giants…always, no matter what…but really, anytime a ball was involved, we’d be in our normal spots in the living room watching the tube.

Ironically, on this particular visit, we didn’t get the opportunity to see his beloved Giants play…even though the NFL extended the regular season into January due to the 9-11 tragedy.

John passed away later that month.

Yes, bad stuff…really-bad stuff…does, indeed, happen in 3s.

No doubt.


As always, thank you so much for listening!

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