It is near dusk in October, 1963. The seven-year-old child pulls the wooden handle on the square drawer in the antique dry sink. She counts out six napkins and deposits one at the center of each placemat, as she walks around the round maple table.
Her mother calls this space the breakfast room, though all the family's regular meals are eaten here. Bumping into the yard, it has the feeling of a porch, with three paneled walls, each with a window.
There is no one else in the room, except the salt and peppered schnauzer puppy curled up in its basket in the corner near Mom's sewing area.
Becky stands at one of the large windows, watching a fat-tailed gray squirrel scamper along the telephone wire that follows the property line. An assortment of tall trees surround her yard and she delights in watching the squirrels, the robins, and the cardinals that share this space with her family in the sleepy suburbs of Buffalo, New York. The squirrel runs, then stops, stands still, runs again, finally jumping onto the roof of the small white poolhouse and disappearing into the trees.
Becky makes several trips to the kitchen to collect handfuls of forks, knives, and spoons and tidily finishes setting the table for dinner: knife and spoon on the right, fork on the left.
Soon Mom returns from the basement laundry room and tells Becky to ring the bell. The boys are upstairs doing homework, Patty is getting ready for a date, and Dad is changing clothes. The little brass dinner bell stands on a shelf nook in the hall just outside the kitchen. It is formed in the shape of a woman wearing a long skirt. Becky has mastered the art of ringing the bell. She grasps the woman's head, keeping her fingers off the body, holding her pinkie in the air. She's learned that the bell makes a dull clank when her hands curl around the skirt. Now at the bottom of the stairs, Becky makes the little bell ring as loud as possible while she yells,"Dinner!"
A few minutes later, Jeffrey, John and Dad are seated and talking quietly among themselves. Someone has lit the candles. Mom dishes up dinner onto the white Correlle plates that are stacked near the stove, and Becky helps carry the plates to the table, while Patty pours six glasses of milk.
Dad likes to talk. Tonight Dad is teaching the boys about fire and heat. He reaches to the center of the table and quickly moves his index finger side to side, right through the candle's flame. Becky's eyes and mouth open wide with excitement and interest as her brothers and sister all follow Dad's lead. No one says ouch. Dad explains that the fire is the hottest at the bottom of the flame. He cautions not to touch the blue part and not to linger near the top, just keep the finger moving.
Becky decides she wants to try it too. She reaches forward but realizes that her arm is too short. Her hands fall back into her lap. Conversation moves on, but Becky is fixed on her desire to experience moving her finger through the flame.
She twists her napkin in her lap, stands up, and extends her lengthened "hand" toward the center of the table.
Contact is made and sounds of urgent exasperation are heard around the table, chairs thumping on the floor as everyone stands up. The surprised seven year old has just learned a lesson different than the one about heat. Though fingers don't burn when quickly drawn through the cool part of a flame, napkins DO catch on fire.
Memoir Notes: This story was best told from the perspective of the third person. I was able to step outside the memory and see it happening from the perspective of my 58 year old self, watching the seven year old self, as though it was someone else.