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 not ssy 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 for Christmas dinner…and that Heather & I would be flying back to NY to see our families (mine & my in-laws’).

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

And that sparked an idea in my head. Before you knew it, I decided to have a little party, along with the card game, & started to invite a number of people.

Pretty soon, everything was 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.

A great time was had by all.

When Sunday morning rolled around, we didn’t do our normal gift exchange where Heather would receive literally a whole roomful of gifts. Our study normally displayed our Christmas tree & you were unable to see any carpet anywhere in the room!

But we weren’t in the 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 5) & her cute little sister, Caroline (2). After all, we were going over their home for a Christmas meal with the Campbells…and we had a tradition to uphold!

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 the gifts on Christmas morning.

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

Everything was nice as we were drinking our coffee, with Christmas music playing & the gentle fire burning.

We were busily wrapping gifts. Heather, who was facing the den, suddenly 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.

But right above the fireplace mantle, there was a hole in the wall…and bright orange-and-yellow flames were shooting straight out from it!!!

I immediately ran over to the fireplace & got on the carpet to look up the chimney

All I could see was solid fire engulfing the entire chimney.

A small little log fire on the bottom…nothing in the middle…and a raging fire above!

We called 9-1-1 and the firemen came within 3 minutes! The SAFD had recently put up a steel structure a few blocks away on Bandera Road as a temporary home for the new fire station so they arrived on the scene almost immediately.

They came rushing into our home & we able to contain the fire & 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.

(It actually turned out, as discovered during the reconstruction period, that there was a tiny 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…it was a miracle that it didn’t blow the whole fireplace away.)

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

Naturally, I called our families & said that we wouldn’t be coming up to NY the next day.

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. More than what I ever expected. Something else was wrong.

Now, it so happened that my father-in-law John had suffered a terrible accident earlier that year… but no one ever told us for fear of upsetting Laurie who was gravely ill.

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 fell over & landed on the hard stairs…he had been in the hospital for months!

I found out about all this at Laurie’s wake.

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

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

I promised Lorraine that we would reschedule our trip & fly up on New Year’s Eve instead.

She sounded relieved.

They were the very first people we saw after landing at Newark Airport on Saturday. John didn’t look good.

He already had quadruple bypass surgery 20 years earlier & outlived the 10 years they normally give you. Still smoked & you could still see the aftermath of the various injuries he suffered. He also would heal from even small cuts & bruises extremely slowly, so it was pretty evident what had happened.

I remember watching a bunch of football games with him as we would normally do. Always the Yankees & the football Giants…always…but we always enjoyed our sports.

He died about a week later.

That bad stuff does, indeed, happen in 3s…

As always, thank you for listening!

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